The Instigator
Pro (for)
3 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
2 Points

Torture Can Be Acceptable

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/4/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,203 times Debate No: 45197
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (6)
Votes (1)




I, Pro, will attempt to show that there are certain scenario(s) when torture should be considered acceptable.

My opponent will attempt to disprove my stance.

First Round will be for Acceptance.


I thank you for creating this debate, I will be arguing that torture is never acceptable.

Oh and could you define torture please.
Debate Round No. 1


I believe the drawbacks to torture are widely known. Most believe there are better options for information extraction than torture. I agree with these people, however, that doesn't stop me from advocating the use of torture for certain means in specific scenario(s). I shall be providing a scenario, and justifying the use of torture in this scenario.

The CIA has captured a member of a terrorist group that is going to be launching an attack on American soil within 2 days. Beyond the knowledge of the immenence of the attack, and the man in custody's association with the terrorist group, and the fact that he is likely to have useful information, they have very little information.

The CIA has had this terrorist for weeks now, attempting to extract useful information through repeated questioning and offering of rewards for compliance. The terrorist has resisted, offering them no useful information.

Now the CIA has run out of time. They can either give up, or use the last-ditch option: torture.

If the CIA refrains from torturing the terrorist, they have no information to stop the attack.

If the CIA does torture the terrorist, they have a chance for more information that will help stop the attack.

Lives are at stake, and the pain of one man in order to attempt prevention of loss of life is absolutely justifiable. How would the CIA explain themselves to the American people if the attack was successfully executed, and hundreds died?


First I would like to show how ineffective torture is, Darius Rejali a "nationally recognized expert on government torture and interrogation" [1] states that "Torture during interrogations rarely yields better information than traditional human intelligence, partly because no one has figured out a precise, reliable way to break human beings or any adequate method to evaluate whether what prisoners say when they do talk is true,".

As you can see, the information acquired from torture should not be considered accurate and therefore the information given by the terrorist in your scenario should not be considered reliable and the chances are it wouldn't stop the actual attack.

False information is often gained from torture [2] and so if the information is acted upon there is a good chance it will put even more lives at risk if the intelligence is acted upon especially because terrorists in custody are often still radicalized [3] and still want to inflict harm on civilians regardless.

Further more I very much doubt your scenario would ever happen, as the ex-war correspondent and respected commentator Christopher Hitchens says: "favourite experimental scenario"the man knows where the bomb is, put the hooks into him swiftly is actually a contingency almost impossible to visualise. I certainly know of no such real-life case" [4].

(see chapter 3)
Debate Round No. 2


My opponent suggests that information taken through torture is completely unreliable, and should never be considered true. However, we can see in his first source that the expert talking doesn't believe that information gained from torture is never reliable. Notice the use of the word 'rarely'.

While it is not guaranteed that the terrorist will talk, it is 100% guaranteed the terrorist will not talk if no action is taken, and as I've elaborated in my scenario, torture is the only applicable option in this scenario. My opponent says chances are the information won't stop the attack. The use of the word 'chances' indicates that it is not certain that there will be no useful information. Given that it is not certain, and loss of life hangs in the balance, the proposed likelihood of a fruitless interrogation is an acceptable risk to take. When I proposed this scenario I knew torture wasn't a wholly reliable means of acquiring information, but I also know that there is a chance of it being useful, which I have argued is a chance worth taking, and that, in this scenario, it is the only option left.

My opponent also says that false information is often gained from torture. I do not believe this should deter the last ditch option of torture in this scenario. It's not as if the terrorist says the attack will be in Philedelphia and suddenly every intelligence agency member, police officer, and soldier is going to head over to Philadelphia, leaving the rest of America unguarded. What's more realistic is that teams will act upon the information, while the rest of the intelligence community continues looking for other possibilities.

Next my opponent talks about the unlikely nature of my scenario. Even if a war reporter thinks my scenario is impossible, it doesn't matter. The debate is centered around the justification of an action taken in a hypothetical event. The only time Christopher Hitchens' words would matter is if this was a debate over "This Scenario is Likely to Occur".

Thanks for reading.


First I accept you are correct that the chance of this event occurring is meaningless, that was simply musing on my part.

I will argue that torture is akin to guesswork, that being the chances of gaining accurate information from torture is the same as gaining accurate information of torture and that the chance of prolonged psychological damage to the victims of torture [1] makes guess work a better final option.

Now I will have to back up my assertion that torture is no more effective than guess work. First (as far as I can tell from half a day of solid googling) there are no studies which have passed peer review in psychology journals that actively show torture as an effective way of gathering information. This means that you must assume torture is more effective, I have nothing to prove, you must prove that torture is effective. This makes torture no better than a guess, comparable to dowsing in a last ditch attempt to find water in the desert.

Furthermore what does it say about us as a society if we resort to the same tactics as the terrorists in our fight against them, torture blurs the line between us and the terrorists.

Debate Round No. 3


The argument my opponent has put forth is that torture is no better than taking a guess, and that it would be better to not torture ever. However, torture has worked before[1][2][3][4], and so it should not be viewed as 'a stab in the dark', but rather a long-shot, one which should only be taken if no other options can be used. I am not here to pretend that torture is a good and reliable way to get pertinent information, but in my scenario, it is the best option available.

As for the idea of us becoming what we're fighting, there is one thing to note. In this scenario, whoever is torturing this terrorist is doing it to protect people who are not a part of the war, they're just ordinary citizens. If a terrorist organization like Al-Qaeda tortures, it's for the aim of victimizing innocents. Basically what I'm saying is the ends make us different. We're torturing to save lives, and they're torturing to gain information to take lives.



I'm sorry but listing several times that torture has worked in some way doesn't mean anything, if I gave examples of where guess work has turned out correct would you conclude that guess work is effective? You must provide actual evidence not just as hoc examples.

As for your justification for torture saying that is to protect people as opposed to torture to terrorize people. This doesn't work as it simply sets a precedent which validates a horrific act.

So as I hope I have shown torture is simply not an effective way of gathering information and should not be used, even as a last resort.
Debate Round No. 4
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by MyDinosaurHands 3 years ago
Well if you get voting rights in 10 days I'd definitely appreciate a vote.
Posted by ESocialBookworm 3 years ago
I agree with Pro. Unfortunately, I don't have voting rights yet.
Posted by MyDinosaurHands 3 years ago
VOTERS! If you view no other link in my final argument, please view the one that takes you to the Daily Beast, as it has cites many instances of torture consistently working, and therefore not just a lucky guess.
Posted by MyDinosaurHands 3 years ago
If a good that overshadows the evil of torture is produced.
Posted by debater135 3 years ago
Why would it be good to torture anyone?
Posted by MyDinosaurHands 3 years ago
1.inflict pain on somebody: to inflict extreme pain or physical punishment on somebody
2.cause somebody anguish: to cause somebody mental or physical anguish

Mostly 1, but if mental torture, like playing on someone's phobia is necessary, then that's open too.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Grandbudda 3 years ago
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Total points awarded:32 
Reasons for voting decision: Intriguing debate but in the end I feel that Pro had the best argument.