The Case Against Torture

In response to: http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/torture.html

The Flawed Case for torture

Michael Levin’s “Case for Torture” makes several ground assumptions that make the article shaky at best and immoral at worst.  The first assumption is that constitutionality is less important than lives.  This is a major assumption to make, as many supreme court justices would disagree with Levin here.  The Constitution, which we choose to found our entire government on, dictates the basic rights every person should have, both as a citizen and as an inmate.  Disregarding the constitution may save a thousand lives the first time, but next time it may be disregarded to save only 100, and the time after that only 10, until it no longer holds meaning because we can shrug off the rights of a citizen with the justification that it will save lives.  Over time it will become so unvalued that the freedom of every citizen to never be used as witnesses against themselves may be overlooked to convict the simplest of criminals.  It sets a bad precedent.

The second major assumption made by the article is that torture is the only option.  Levin implies that torture will only be used as a last resort and in the most extreme situations, however if the government finds that it gets results, it will be used as the de facto standard for extracting information.  The fact remains, however, that torture is never the only option.  Basic technologies exist (such as alcohol) that make individuals divulge information, these are as immoral as torture itself when used as a tool of justice.  One cannot argue whether something is more moral or less moral, there is only moral and immoral.  The moment you begin to balance numbers of lives against the basic rights of humans as a species, you break the values that separate us from animals.

The third, but least severe assumption is that things are always clear-cut.  Every terrorist situation we’ve had in the past has had legal grey zones and questionable facts.  Apprehending the designer of the 9/11 plot and torturing him till he divulged the flight plans of the planes would have only allowed us to attempt to shoot them down, resulting in the deaths of everyone onboard, but maybe not the 3,000 in the World Trade Center.  This is precisely the grey zone, what determines whether the lives of those in the WTC could have been saved by sacrificing the lives of those on the planes, and who determines whether it is worth trying to shoot them down when there wasn’t a 100% chance that they would hit their targets.  In a world as clear as Quartz, torture may be used to achieve a defined goal that would save a definite number of people, and only for that purpose.

The final reason torture should not be considered is more logistical, its inaccurate.  When under excruciating pain a victim is unlikely to give accurate information, more likely they will say whatever they think will make the torture stop.  There have been several cases of information acquired behind the walls of Guantanamo Bay that has led down false paths.  When used as a tool of justice, torture is inaccurate, immoral, and it sets a bad precedent for the future of human rights.  Hundreds of years from now we hope for a better world that bases its justice system on truth, rights, and balance.  If we even begin to condone torture now, our future generations will look upon it as a valid method gaining the desired, but not the correct information from a witness or criminal.

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