The Instigator
surfride
Pro (for)
Losing
22 Points
The Contender
Sweatingjojo
Con (against)
Winning
24 Points

Torture should never be used for the purpose of extracting information.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/22/2008 Category: Politics
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 4,341 times Debate No: 4476
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (6)
Votes (12)

 

surfride

Pro

First of all, I will use the definition of torture given by the UN, which is as follows. "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."
This means that torture is torture even when it does not cause permanent physical harm, the definition that the Bush administration subscribes to.

Not only is torture inhumane, degrading, and mentally and physically harmful to the people being tortured, it has negative psychological effects on the torturers as well, and is not useful in getting accurate information. Consistent studies and real world occurrences have shown that those under torture will say anything to avoid more torture, and often they will say what their interrogator wants to hear. For example, the accusations before the current U.S. war in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase yellowcake uranium were based on statements from a man who was waterboarded, and turned out to be false.

The most common argument for torture, which shows up almost anytime I argue about it, is "What if a terrorist has information about (your doomsday scenario here) that could save thousands of lives?" This argument is flawed in that it is unrealistic;
A) first of all, it is impossible to tell whether a person has the requisite information to prevent the plot,
B)secondly, if a person is really devoted enough to kill thousands of people, torture would only harden their resolve to not speak until the plot was completed, or give false information
C) third, in order to catch a terrorist with knowledge of a plot, a police agency would already have to know that a plot existed, have knowledge of the terrorist cell attempting the plot, and know where some of the terrorists were going to be in order to arrest them. If a police force already has this much information, and was able to catch at least one terrorist, it seems highly improbable that the agency either has not already foiled the plan or should have enough information to stop the attack.
D) Many people talk about this scenario, yet it has never once happened! There has never been a case where there was a known large-scale plot and a person with knowledge of said plot in custody.

Anyone who believes torture should ever be used to extract information, I wait for your response.
Sweatingjojo

Con

Greetings surfride and thank you for making this debate topic.

I regret to tell you that may argument is much in the same vein as the one that you declaimed as flawed in your opening post.

A fundamental right that a moral system of governance should uphold that often comes up with the idea of torture for information is the right to exist in peace.

It is my belief that by taking actions that negate the rights of others to exist in peace, one looses in part or in whole, that right. I also believe that the morality of an action that an organization takes can be determined by the potential ability for said action to result in a net increase of the rights of the people that are led or governed by said organization. Basically I believe in utilitarianism.
"A) first of all, it is impossible to tell whether a person has the requisite information to prevent the plot"
What needs to be realized is that the person in question(or any person)has the POTENTIAL to hold information within his or herself that would result in the torturing organization being able to better protect the right to exist of those who entrust their rights with the organization that tortured the individual for information(likely a government.)
"B)secondly, if a person is really devoted enough to kill thousands of people, torture would only harden their resolve to not speak until the plot was completed, or give false information"
Who says that the person we caught is a devoted Al-quida member who considers all Americans infidels, and wishes death to America even at the cost of his life? An organization, like the US government, might come across a person who simply doesn't harbor the same feelings towards the US, but may infact hold information that would be vital in ensuring the security, and rights of the people.

"C) third, in order to catch a terrorist with knowledge of a plot, a police agency would already have to know that a plot existed, have knowledge of the terrorist cell attempting the plot, and know where some of the terrorists were going to be in order to arrest them. If a police force already has this much information, and was able to catch at least one terrorist, it seems highly improbable that the agency either has not already foiled the plan or should have enough information to stop the attack."
That's a rather confusing point, but, "...plot existed, have knowledge of the terrorist cell attempting the plot, and know where some of the terrorists were going to be in order to arrest them."
All of the things that you stated before me can be acquired by organizations and agencies in a wide variety of methods, one of those methods is torture of individuals who may hold information of varying degrees. One torture won't foil an entire attack, but it can aid in the procurement of intelligence that can lead to stopping an event that would abridge some people's right to exist.

"D) Many people talk about this scenario, yet it has never once happened! There has never been a case where there was a known large-scale plot and a person with knowledge of said plot in custody."
The idea that any organization should go around torturing individuals willy-nilly for information is absurd, and one that I stand strongly in opposition to. However, there is no universal law of nature that dictates that a torture will never yield intelligence of any kind that could protect the rights of innocent people. Because of this, one can not simply rule out torture in all circumstances, as this resolution does. Just because the pro side has never witnessed an instance of torture aiding an organization in protecting the right to exist of the people who entrust said rights to the organization, doesn't mean it won't ever happen in all eternity.

It is not right to require organizations to not try to the best of their ability to thwart plots that could cause destruction to their cause, which is the people they are to protect.

As Richard Posner, Justice on the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit of the United States puts it so succinctly, "If torture is the only means of obtaining the information necessary to to prevent the detonation of a nuclear bomb in Times Square, torture should be used... to obtain the information."
Debate Round No. 1
surfride

Pro

First I will point out that you did not touch upon the accuracy of information obtained by torture, which is one of the major points in the argument.

Here are my counter rebuttals to each of my points.

First of all, your belief in the losing of one's right to live in peace should they disturb that right for others, I would say that sounds an awful lot like sinking to the level of the committer of the act. I have my doubts about utilitarianism but that's neither here nor there.

A) You state that any person could have the potential to hold the information necessary to protect better the right to exist of the masses. Does that mean that the government can torture anyone, because they have the potential to have information that would better allow protection of the masses? So if there's even the possibility that someone has information, they should be tortured? This also ignores the possibility that information can be extracted in ways other than torture, such as interrogation without excessive coercion.

B) Yes, although not all terrorists involved in large scale plots would be dedicated al quaeda members or the like, i don't think there are too many terrorist groups killing thousands of people "for laughs". Anyone who has a plan to kill a lot of people is either going to be deranged or dedicated to at least a fairly high degree. Your second sentence is confusing, what do you mean by "a person who simply doesn't harbor the same feelings towards the US" what feelings are these?

C)You didn't really respond to my point in this one, could be you were confused, but what I was basically saying is that in order for police to know that there is an immediate, threatening terrorist plot and have a terrorist known to be associated with said plot in custody, the police should already have enough information to crack the case, or should have already averted the plot through gathering the information and capturing a terrorist.

D) Just because torture could possibly yield useful information does not mean that it is worth it. It is very possible that an organization could torture many people and get no information before getting one small piece of accurate, useful information, but then many people would be permanently damaged.

I also disagree essentially with your entire line of reasoning. I see that you believe that the right to exist of the many outweighs the right to exist in peace of the few, but a civilized society cannot operate like that. You say that a net increase in the rights of a society makes torture worth it, but don't you agree that torturing a person for information does not increase the rights of society? It decreases extremely the rights of a few individuals, in exchange for no increase in the rights of the masses, unless you count the right to life of the people that would have been killed in the attack. However, to torture undermines the very principles of a civilized society, because a civilized society has equal rights for all, irregardless of the situation. Some would say that a crisis situation is no time for high-minded ideals, but actually a crisis is the only time for ideals, because if they are not kept, then the basis of society crumbles.

Another contention I have is that in your opening line, you mentioned briefly "a moral system of government". In the case of the U.S, the U.S constitution is based on protecting the rights of the individual. There is no provision in the Constitution that says "these rights may be abridged if the greater good demands it", because there IS no greater good than ensuring that every individual is afforded the same rights. To abridge these rights invites further abuse, as well as undermining the principles of the government that abuses the rights, which hurts the people. No one wants to be ruled by a government that has no legitimacy, and so to torture is self defeating, because it undermines the government.

The thing that overall just hasn't been touched is the accuracy of torture, because that is vital. It's all well and good to talk about how much the information itself could help against an attack, but it's been proven again and again that torture simply does not produce accurate information. It produces what the interrogator wants to hear. There are better ways to get information, and to say that torture is an agency trying its hardest is inaccurate. Resorting to torture to get information is like going to a junk car dump when you need a ride. Sure, there might be a Porsche 911 turbo there that works great, but 99.9 percent of what you find is going to be totally useless.

I have a quote too, it comes from Benjamin Franklin. "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety"
Sweatingjojo

Con

I think that some confusion has arisen regarding the point I am trying to make about why this resolution cannot be affirmed.

As of late, torture has been an overall ineffective method to extract information, regardless, a complete condemnation of torture for info. in every circumstance, as this resolution mandates, has the potential to allow for catastrophe to happen.
It is not impossible to extract valuable information from torture, it just doesn't happen much, as far as we know. And if a situation arose where a person was known to have valuable information that could save lives, and this person was generally non compliant to less aggressive means of getting information, it is my opinion that it would be the duty of those who have the person in custody to torture the person, to give the governing organization a greater chance to save the lives of those who they govern over.

Some quick responses:
A. My point isn't that a government should torture ANYONE for information, but that a government or organization should not refuse to torture SOMEONE who has information that could lead to the protection of the masses the organization is entrusted to protect. I'm not saying that torture should be resorted to first, but in dire situations, it shouldn't be off the table.

B. My point is that not everyone that works for an organization may hold the same opinions about their target as others. Likewise, all people have different limits to the amount of pain and suffering that can be endured, making torture an effective means to push people beyond their pain threshold, and get potentially useful intelligence.

C. Not necessarily, the fight against terrorism takes place on a global battlefield, one suspect wouldn't be enough to crack the case. To counter terror plots, it takes a significant amount of resources and time.

D. Ah yes, you used the "could" word. There is also a chance that the first person will yield real intelligence, and that potential cannot be ignored when the stakes are very high.

I make no suggestion that a government ought to be torturing its own subjects, any organization that tortures people en masse probably won't yield as good results as an organization that is more sure of the people brought in for aggressive interrogation.

The US Constitution applies only to those who live in the United States, so if the US government were to find a person whose information could lead to the protection of US citizens and interests, then torture should not be off the table, if less coercive methods don't work. Again, I don't believe that the government should have a Gestapo that works against its own citizens, or even one that regularly goes after people of other nations. But I do believe that torture cannot be ruled out as an option in a case where someone could provide an organization with seriously helpful information in protecting the organization's subjects.

If torture is dismissed for all time, then the potential for life saving information to be gained in a last resort scenario is lost forever. Its not something that should be done every day, nay every year, but it cannot simply be thrown out for good, giving enemies of an organization an easier time in completing their goals.
I present to you a hypothetical that I believe justifies the existence of torture for information in a situation that is somewhat unlikely, but not at all impossible from happening.

Say the government of the People's Republic of China comes accross a Chinese citizen who works as a liaison between China and the US at our embassy in Beijing. His apartment is searched, and in it is found a camera that holds photographs of schematics for Chinese missile silos. The question that the Chinese government now needs to know is, "Who gave this diplomat strategic military information?" Wouldn't it be justified for the government to use every possible resource to find out where the leak is coming from? If the answer is yes, then obviously torture cannot be ruled out for all time, and if the answer is no, then the person answering the question obviously doesn't understand the security needed to run a rising global power in the 21st century.
Debate Round No. 2
surfride

Pro

Well, in the final round, I think A, B, and D have been about beaten to death, I still don't think you got what I was saying on point C.

You said that the U.S constitution only applies to U.S citizens, ans while that may be true, although there's a fuzzy line, there is also the Geneva Convention, which the U.S. signed, and I believe that article 3 gives protection to POW's, etc. I hope you don't bring out the argument that terrorist nations didn't sign, which is irrelevant, or that the terrorists are "illegal enemy combatants", which is just a designation created essentially for the purpose of skirting the Geneva convention, and actually has no legal definition, probably to keep a nice, fuzzy layer of confusion between what the Bush Administration wants and the Geneva convention.

About the China thing, there are a lot of ways of dealing with that, and I don't believe that that scenario is an urgent, life threatening one, and is in fact a scenario that could be in a way beneficial, as the Chinese officials could tail the man and find out his connections, break the chain of intelligence gathering, and then nab the guy after the threat has been neutralized.

In summation, my argument rests on the following points.
A) Torture is very inhumane
B) Torture is not a reliable method of producing information
C) Torture is forbidden by international agreements
D) Torture is not necessary, whether there is a "ticking time bomb" (highly unlikely) or a mole in a government agency (more likely)
Sweatingjojo

Con

With all due respect, the reason why A B and D were beaten to death was because my stance was correct.

As far as C goes, the point is simple, terror-plot-busting takes some time to happen, and it works much like working on a jigsaw puzzle. An informant here leads to a capture there, some torture there leads to a hide out here...
My point is torture cannot be off the table when dealing with stopping international terrorism.

The ratification of the Geneva Conventions by a government does not somehow physically bar that nation from torturing people for information. Now I certainly think that it is even more reprehensible to torture soldiers of other nations for information, and had the resolution read, "Torture should never be used for the purpose of extracting information from enemy soldiers" I would have a terrible time going against it.
But alas, it does not.

The designation of people who potentially have highly valuable information doesn't matter. The fact is that the organization holding those people should not be barred from going to extreme measures, torture, to get life saving intelligence.

Sure you can deal with leaks in lots of ways, but the revelation of nuclear secrets to a rival country IS A DIRE THREAT to that nation's security. Imagine if we were in a cold war with china,(which we probably will be in 10-20 years) for us to know where and how they keep their bombs would make a first strike by the United States a viable option.

Sure the PRC could try tailing the man first, I didn't say they couldn't. But if tailing him doesn't work, they need to get him, and also find out who the traitor is in their military.

I agree that torture is inhumane, I agree with you that we haven't learned of many instances of torture yielding information, sure many countries have said they won't do it to soldiers, BUT!!

TORTURE CANNOT BE RULED OUT IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES!!!

If a government needs to deal with a terrorist threat rapidly, they should not hesitate for a moment to go after suspects and, if they don't cooperate, torture them to try to stop an attack.
If someone is leaking top secret information from your government, it would be unjustifiably irresponsible to not work hard to ensure that you're not being destroyed from within.

To condemn a method of intelligence gathering for all time, as this resolution does, is absurd.

My point is, WE DON'T KNOW WHAT COULD HAPPEN TOMORROW. WE NEED TO HAVE ALL OPTIONS ON THE TABLE FOR PROTECTING OUR NATION

Once again, I am not advocating torture become a commonly used method of intelligence gathering, but to throw it out for all time would be a terrible dis-service for any organization that is to protect a group of people that entrust said organization with their rights.

Vote CON if this debate has shown you why the absolutist resolution cannot be applied to this world.
Or you could vote con if you thought I just debated better, it doesn't matter to me. :)

Thank you surfride for the debate, it was quite fun, and I look forward to debating you again.
Debate Round No. 3
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by Im_always_right 8 years ago
Im_always_right
Wow, both sides had excellent points, and debated very well, and there were no forfeits. I don't know who to vote for, so I'm not voting quite yet. I agree with pro, but con made very good points and is saying to be debating the side he doesn't like... so prolly con.
Posted by surfride 8 years ago
surfride
Snoopy, that is not a valid argument. If you're referring to the "terrorists" at Guantanamo and the like, no charges have even been brought against them. Also, everyone's rights are important. If we start taking away the rights of people we accuse as being terrorists, where is the line drawn? What if the terrorists are "homegrown" US citizens? Is torture permissible then? If so, what about in other criminal cases? And I don't think it's right to arbitrarily state that some people fighting for a cause that is not understood or considered valid are terrorists and have no rights. Were the French Resistance fighters terrorists? I don't remember who said this, but "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Were the mujahedeen, the Afghani guerillas that we supplied with weapons and training, terrorists? Maybe to the Russians, but we supported them, and considered them our allies, until Russia pulled out of Afghanistan, and then we left the mujahedeen, who then formed the basis for the Taliban and Al Quaeda. We didn't consider them terrorists until they attacked US. It all depends on your point of view.
Posted by SnoopyDaniels 8 years ago
SnoopyDaniels
Surfride, why are people like you so anxious to protect the "rights" of dirt-bag terrorists? Terrorists have no rights. They forfeited them when they decided to make war against the civilized world and its citizens.
Posted by surfride 8 years ago
surfride
yeah, Jojo, it's fun to go to the other side sometimes. One time i was in debate club and I argued for the Patriot Act, which I abhor, but it was probably the most fun I've had in a while.
Posted by brian_eggleston 8 years ago
brian_eggleston
An excellent debate on both sides. More of the same, please!
Posted by Sweatingjojo 8 years ago
Sweatingjojo
Actually I think torture is terrible, but I wanted to try arguing the other side.
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