The Instigator
Freeman
Pro (for)
Winning
21 Points
The Contender
Neferiel
Con (against)
Losing
0 Points

Torture is sometimes morally permissible.

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 3 votes the winner is...
Freeman
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/10/2009 Category: Politics
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,515 times Debate No: 9186
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (15)
Votes (3)

 

Freeman

Pro

Torture can be morally justified in rare circumstances. In the case of a ticking time bomb that could destroy a city and potentially kill millions of people the use of coerced interrogation to extract information can be justified. I am not arguing that torture should be made legal. Torture, like theft, could be ethical under certain parameters and still be against the law. Nor am I arguing that a general practice of torture can be made from the scenario I outlined above. What I wish to argue is that torture, as unsavory as it may be, has utilities that in rare situations far outweigh its negative attributes thereby rendering it moral.

Perhaps ticking time bombs seem too impersonal. Imagine that a rapist has taken your child captive. He has hidden her away in a dungeon somewhere in the United States. Luckily you capture the man and bring him into police custody but he is unwilling to disclose the location of your child. Unfortunately your child has a very rare blood disorder and cannot survive more than 24 hours without medication. For the sake of the argument let us assume the ONLY two VIABLE options are to idly do nothing or to torture the rapist for information on your child's whereabouts. Any serious response to this situation should be along the lines of; "My child should be allowed to die because…" or "We should torture the rapist because…" choose wisely.

I am one of very few people I know who has publicly advocated for the use of torture. As a result this has put me at odds with many deeply ethical people. These people speak in a manner that would lead one to conclude that an argument with the aim of categorically repudiating torture is readily available. However, in the few times I have debated this issue in school such an argument has never been produced. Many people have objected to my argument, on emotional grounds, but they have consistently failed to demonstrate any flaws in my thinking. Many readers will be tempted to dismiss torture as categorically evil but this position is impossible to square with our willingness to wage modern warfare.

When we as a nation choose to engage in war, for either offensive or defensive purposes "collateral damage"—the maiming and killing of innocent noncombatants—will be unavoidable. It is truly one of the great ironies of liberal discourse that the thought of waterboarding someone like Osama Bin Laden raises more ire than the thought of maiming and killing defenseless children in air raids. At the eve of the war with Iraq it was superficially easy to predict that many men, women and children would be maimed and killed as result of our endeavor.

There is another option to war though. It guarantees that we never, under any circumstance, kill civilians or otherwise innocent people. We can simply choose to never engage in war. Schools cant accidentally be bombed if we aren't bombing anyone; apartments wont accidentally be hit if we aren't lobbing mortar shells etc. This position may be appetizing to some peaceniks but it is ultimately untenable and may even be deeply immoral. Collateral damage is unavoidable only once a war has begun. But it can easily be avoided if we simply refuse to fight. To assert that civilian casualties are unavoidable is simply fallacious because it fails to recognize pacifism as a possible option. The decisions to wage war and use torture are both options that inevitably violate human rights. Torture, at least how I'm advocating for it, is designed to save possibly millions of lives which is what war is also designed to do. However torture is the far more ethical choice of the two because unlike war it doesn't necessitate that anyone innocent is killed.

There are, of course, complete pacifists that are opposed to fighting wars under any circumstances. If this view were applied to our foreign policy then we would be left with something very similar to the absolute pacifism of someone like Ghandi. While pacifism can in certain instances be moral it has a very limited range of usefulness. Where pacifism is not applicable it can come off as blatantly immoral. We would do well to reflect on Gandhi's remedy for the Holocaust: he believed that the Jews should have committed mass suicide, because this "would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler's violence." If this view were taken to its logical conclusions we would be left with a world in which thugs, criminals and other rabble would inherit the Earth.
http://ambivablog.typepad.com...

Opponents of torture will be quick to assert that the confessions elicited under torture have been notoriously unreliable. Considering what can be at stake in a world where nuclear proliferation is still ongoing this argument seems to lack its usual force. The odds that our interests will be furthered in an act of torture need only equal that occasioned by a single bomb dismantling an organization like Al Qaeda. What are the odds that one of our bombing raids will kill Osama Bin Laden? They have to be pretty slim and undoubtedly many innocents will be killed and maimed in our failed attempts. Insofar as our use of torture carries with it the same amount of success as our more lethal tactics for saving lives we can deem it morally permissible. Further, it should be obvious that a failed torture attempt isn't going to leave children orphaned and women disemboweled. If there were even one chance in a million that someone like Osama bin Laden could tell us something under torture that could lead to the dismantling of an organization like Al Qaeda or Hamas, then it seems we should use every thing in our disposal to get him talking.

So we must now ask ourselves the obvious, if we are willing to act in a way that guarantees the misery and death of a considerable number of innocent children, why spare the rod with known terrorists? The deaths of the children that have been killed in Iraq were even easier to predict than the trajectories of the missiles and bullets that killed them. And yet we deem these accidents morally permissible, insofar as we regard the justification for any given war to be truthful.

Torture need not entail that its recipient is killed or even physically harmed in any way, whereas modern warfare guarantees innocent children will be killed, blinded, orphaned and severely disfigured in the act of war. If we are willing to accept the fact that bombs and rifle rounds will eventually yield civilian casualties we should be willing to torture a certain class of suspects and military prisoners; If we are unwilling to torture then we should also be unwilling to wage modern warfare.

Definition of torture
Article 1 of the Convention defines torture as:
Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
– Convention Against Torture, Article 1.1

http://en.wikipedia.org...
Neferiel

Con

I am sorry for the delay in posting... my internet has been extremely spotty the last few days, and I'm not sure I'll even make it to the end of this post.

Firstly, I'll cover my opponent's examples. The exampels are extremely flawed, and here's the main line showing why this is. "For the sake of the argument let us assume the ONLY two VIABLE options" But we can never assume these are the ONLY options. Obviously this example would never happen in real life, and even if it did (because it COULD happen, in the resolutional world), there are ALWAYS, ALWAYS other options. My opponent tries to narrow this down to a simple yes/no, but I assure you it is never that simple. Don't let this be narrowed down to two simple choices.

Though my opponent's arguments don't seem to be entirely relevant, I will cover them briefly here. War is a necessary evil. It is never going to go awaybecause of mankind's own violent nature. If an invading nation attacks us, we have no choice but to defend ourselves. However, if we start stooping to the level of causing pain ourselves, we arejust as bad as our enemies.

Here are a few definitions to define key terms:
Torture: "the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure"
In this debate, we would obviously be looking at torture with the intention to coerce someone into saying something.

Moral: "of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior : ethical"

Firstly, Collateral damage: This is all irrelevant. Yes, it is bad. No, it does not make it moral. The intentions in torture and war are so different that the two cannot be compared. Nowhere does my opponent actually show why this is morally permissible, therefore it is non-resolutional and falls.

My case:
Naturally, my main statement remains: Torture is immoral. However, in order to better define the scope of the resolution, my case will deal with the alternatives to torture that work just as well and save our morality.

Contention 1: Cooperation can be used more effectively than torture.

Coercing, instead of torturing, prisoners, helped the U.S. military track down and kill Abu Masub al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Matthew Alexander, a former interrogator, said, "When you use coercion, a detainee might tell you the location of a house, but if you use cooperation they will tell you if the house is booby-trapped, and that's a very important difference." Fifteen former United States interrogators and intelligence officers found that torture is ineffective and counterproductive through their experience with it. They found rapport-based interviewing to be the best way to obtain "accurate and complete intelligence". As we can see, torture will not only immoralize us, but will be less effective than cooperative methods.

Contention 2: Information obtained through torture is unreliable

Dinah PoKempner, the general counsel for the watchdog group Human Rights Watch in New York, stresses that information provided under duress is inherently unreliable. "The problem is that torture is not only morally reprehensible, it's also extremely ineffective. The body adjusts to pain. You often have to really ratchet up the treatment in order to get someone to talk to you. And then when they talk to you, they are talking to stop the treatment and not necessarily to tell you the truth," PoKempner says. When someone is being tortured, they're just as likely to give you false information as true information, and we can't afford that kind of problem.
Debate Round No. 1
Freeman

Pro

I would first wish to thank my opponent for his response. It doesn't bother me that much that my opponents in these debates always seek to weasel their way out of my hypothetical situations but I do want the readers to take notice of this. The point of my hypothetical situations was not to create highly plausible scenarios that often occur on a daily basis. The point was to demonstrate the absurdity of being categorically opposed to torture.

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Case Con
======

Contention 1: Cooperation can be used more effectively than torture.

This is completely irrelevant to the debate. The ticking time bomb scenario I outlined does not provide sufficient time for us to build a rapport with terrorists or to convince them of their own folly. Obviously if there is no imminent danger we should try to build trust with terrorists in our custody that may have useful information. You're pushing on an open door with that assertion.

Contention 2: Information obtained through torture is unreliable

I've already addressed this. So, if anyone wants to know my position they can reread my seventh paragraph of my first round. However there is something I would like to add. Even if torture were only 5% reliable, as some would claim, this is more than a sufficient basis to justify its use in extreme situations. If there were even a 5% or 1 in 20 chance that we could stop a nuclear bomb by our use of torture to extract information then we should not waver in our resolve to employ it.

======
Case Pro
======

If torture were always wrong, as you claim, then a few things would logically follow. Torture, under this view, would still be wrong even if we knew that by not using it tens of millions of people would die. So, here is my challenge to you. I would wish that you create a short paragraph expanding upon your position. It should be along the lines of "Millions of people should be allowed to die in a nuclear explosion even if torture was the only feasible means to save them because…" It shouldn't be so hard to construct such a paragraph if torture is always wrong, as you would have me believe. If you choose to not respond I will automatically assume that you don't have a coherent position.

And now without further delay here is my trump card.

Premise#1
It is morally acceptable to knowingly incur collateral damage to prevent 1 million people from dying in the context of a defensive war.

Premise #2
Taking a course of action that will knowingly incur collateral damage is far worse than torturing a convicted terrorist for information if the ends to these scenarios are both the same.

Premise # 3
By analogy torturing a convicted terrorist to prevent 1 million people from dying is the more ethical choice than taking a course of action that will knowingly incur collateral damage if the goal is also to save 1 million people.

Conclusion
If Premise number 1 and 2 are true then torture can be morally justified as a defensive action to prevent 1 million people from dying.

I would venture a guess that premise number 1 is uncontroversial, at least to reasonable people. The rest of the argument hinges upon premise #2 being correct. If premise #2 were correct then the conclusion would logically follow.

If you think the argument is flawed then you will have to logically demonstrate why acting in a way that guarantees the deaths of innocent civilians is less wrong than torturing a convicted terrorist if the ends are both the same. Honestly I would be dumbstruck if someone could successfully argue this but I'm more than willing to accept the fact that I may be wrong.

Frankly I think this argument is so forceful that it is almost rhetorical but I am more than eager to have you point out any flaws in it.

All the best,
Freeman

Sources

http://www.ethicapublishing.com...
Neferiel

Con

Neferiel forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2
Freeman

Pro

Let me thank my opponent for debating with me. Hopefully he will show up for the last round. In all honesty I couldn't really say any more than what I've already said so allow me to recap my previous argument.

======
Case Pro
======

Premise #1
It is morally acceptable to knowingly incur collateral damage to prevent 1 million people from dying in the context of a defensive war.

Premise #2
Taking a course of action that will knowingly incur collateral damage is far worse than torturing a convicted terrorist for information if the ends to these scenarios are both the same.

Premise #3
By analogy torturing a convicted terrorist to prevent 1 million people from dying is the more ethical choice than taking a course of action that will knowingly incur collateral damage if the goal is also to save 1 million people.

Conclusion
If Premise number 1 and 2 are true then torture can be morally justified as a defensive action to prevent 1 million people from dying.

Allow me to take you on one last thought experiment. I suspect that it will put my opponents views up to the ultimate test.

Imagine that you are the commanding officer of the US armed forces in Iraq. Rebel fighters have smuggled a nuclear weapon into the country and are preparing to detonate it in some highly populated district within an hour. If they succeed in this diabolical mission tens of thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians will be killed. However, there is good news. Not only do you have the ringleader of this operation in your custody but you also find papers on him that details the exact location of the detonation device for the nuclear weapon. These papers also outline how to remotely deactivate the bomb with a secret code that only the ringleader knows. If you bomb the building where the detonation device is being held you will disarm the bomb and thus avert catastrophe. Here is where things get tricky. The building where the bomb detonator is being held is right next to a school and a hospital. And if you decide to bomb it you will likely incur at least a dozen or so civilian casualties.

Here are your two options.

Choice #1
You can call an air strike to bomb the enemy's base where the detonation device is being held and thus avert catastrophe. However, your choice to do this will likely incur at the minimum 12 casualties children, women, teachers etc.

Choice #2
You can torture the leader of the operation for the remote disarmament codes of the nuclear weapon. Even if the torture attempt fails and the information is not extracted you will still have time to call in the air strike at the last moment.

Best,
Freeman
Neferiel

Con

Neferiel forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
15 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Rezzealaux 7 years ago
Rezzealaux
Done!
Posted by Freeman 7 years ago
Freeman
For the love of God someone vote on this debate. My opponent forfeited 2 rounds for crying out lout.
Posted by Freeman 7 years ago
Freeman
I challenged both of the people you mentioned to this debate. And both of them agree with me, as does almost everyone else I challenged.
Posted by MTGandP 7 years ago
MTGandP
Freeman, if you want to improve, I have a suggestion. Instead of creating an open debate, find someone who you think will oppose you and who is also a good debater and challenge that person. I'd suggest Volkov or theLwerd; they are both active liberals who seem like they would be anti-torture, and they are also great debaters.
Posted by Freeman 7 years ago
Freeman
"No, it seems that you would at least correct your argument, considering how irrelevant collateral damage is to torture."

I added an extra paragraph to my essay where I try to better demonstrate how my collateral damage analogy is valid.

"There is another option to war though. It guarantees that we never, under any circumstance, kill civilians or otherwise innocent people. We can simply choose to never engage in war. Schools cant accidentally be bombed if we aren't bombing anyone; apartments wont accidentally be hit if we aren't lobbing mortar shells etc. This position may be appetizing to some peaceniks but it is ultimately untenable and may even be deeply immoral. Collateral damage is unavoidable only once a war has begun. But it can easily be avoided if we simply refuse to fight. To assert that civilian casualties are unavoidable is simply fallacious because it fails to recognize pacifism as a possible option. The decisions to wage war and use torture are both options that inevitably violate human rights. Torture, at least how I'm advocating for it, is designed to save possibly millions of lives which is what war is also designed to do. However torture is the far more ethical choice of the two because unlike war it doesn't necessitate that anyone innocent is killed."
Posted by rougeagent21 7 years ago
rougeagent21
Agree with PRO.
Posted by tribefan011 7 years ago
tribefan011
No, it seems that you would at least correct your argument, considering how irrelevant collateral damage is to torture. It doesn't show much intellectualism to use the same exact argument with the same wording each time, especially when flaws have been pointed out in that argument.
Posted by Xer 7 years ago
Xer
This is your 4th time debating this?

You get bored yet?
Posted by Freeman 7 years ago
Freeman
Whats wrong with copying and pasting an essay that I created? Would you prefer that I typed it again from scratch? If you find the topic to be redundant you dont have read it.

MTGandP is the only person so far to give a semi convincing and coherent rebuttal, so I wish to learn from the mistakes I made with him to imrove my own side. Whats wrong with that?
Posted by tribefan011 7 years ago
tribefan011
More like repetition. He's copied and pasted this argument four times.
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
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Vote Placed by JBlake 7 years ago
JBlake
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Vote Placed by Rezzealaux 7 years ago
Rezzealaux
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