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The Instigator
Pro (for)
6 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

The USFG should disallow torture and forgo using it as an interrogation technique.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/17/2008 Category: Society
Updated: 14 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 1,382 times Debate No: 2713
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (5)
Votes (2)




Exactly as the title states. Please don't accept if you're not willing to debate this all the way through, this is the third time I'm posting this now.

I will define torture as extreme anguish of body or mind, and I accept that torture can be both physical and psychological. I view all torture as illegitimate.

I would like to debate these tenets:

1. Torture is dehumanizing and degrading. To torture any individual is to declare that their life is worthless and they are merely an object which can be used for a purpose.

2. I will make the preemptive argument that if you claim torture is legitimate, then you must also claim it can and should be used on anyone who is viewed as withholding valuable information.

3. Torture is ineffective and rarely works. Individuals often suffer so much pain and anguish that they will say or do anything to stop the torture from continuing.

Those are what I plan to work with throughout this debate, feel free to bring up other points that I haven't. Good luck :)


I generally frown upon excessive pre-emptive arguments, but then I guess the typical arguments in favor of torture are quite obvious, so I'll let it slide and thus in my opening address both the points in favor of torture and the pre-empt.

1. The Effectiveness of Torture
I will begin by assuming the United States Federal Government does not torture for fun and it instead only resorts to torture for the protection of American citizens. If you wish to dispute this fact, I am more then eager to hear what you would have to say in that regard. Now if there was an impending terrorist attack, and a material informant was captured, The Con here argues that torture is an effective means by which to gather information. The Pro makes the argument "torture is ineffective and rarely works." This argument fails for a number of reasons. The Pro states: "they will say or do anything to stop the torture from continuing". If that is true, then if they knew the truth, they would state it, to stop the torture from continuing. This is a vital concession made by the Pro. Furthermore, agents who were assigned to torture potential databases of information could easily analyze and compare statements to deduce whether the informant is giving actual information or has simply ran out and is just making statements to stop torture from continuing. When being tortured, it is rather difficult to stretch creativity to make convincing lies, and furthermore, agents of the USFG will not be stupid enough to ask leading questions to get answers they want. They are not police officers trying to extract a confession, they are trying to save American lives. Pro has made a huge mistake in confusing the aims of police officers trying to beat a confession and the aims of Federal Agents trying to thwart a terrorist attack.

2. Discourage / Dishearten the enemies of America
The second, often unstated, purpose of torturing material informants is that it would help discourage others from taking up arms against America. No one enjoys being tortured. If they see that resisting America puts them in danger of being tortured for information, they would think twice before joining terrorist organizations. Of course there will still be plenty of true fanatics, but by dissuading many potential enemies, we save both American lives, and the lives of foreign nationals, as well as force terrorist organizations to expend more resources in recruitment.

3. The Duty of the American Government
The duty of the American Government is to safeguard the interests (and lives) of American citizens. This also addresses the second pre-empt. Torturing American citizens to save American citizens is on shaky grounds. The calculations of societal good are difficult to make. Thus the government should not take such risks. However, torturing foreign nationals, especially enemies of America foreign nationals is drastically different. As I said before, the American government has a duty to protect American interests. America has no duty/obligations to foreign nationals trying to destroy America and kill American citizens. Thus on the balance scale, the lives of Americans far outweigh the comfort of our enemies who are not Americans.

Now to address the Pro's only un-addressed point: Torture is dehumanizing and degrading and etc.
First, terrorists, through conspiring to commit murder on a grand scale, through their actions already dehumanize themselves. By plotting to murder thousands, if not more, they have already separated themselves from the fabric of humanity, because no real Humans could commit such heinous actions. Humans are by definition filled with humanity, humans by definition are humane. Those conspiring to kill thousands of humans, to throw America into chaos and grief, these "people" are no people at all. They are beasts, savage animals who have already abdicated any rights to be called "human". And having done so, it is no crime to treat them as the beasts they have made themselves out to be.

Secondly, the arguments that torture is degrading does not actually hold much water. The Pro did not actually attach anything to declaring that their life is worthless. The argument lacks impact. So what we declare the lives of terrorists conspiring to kill innocent Americans to be "worthless". Is this some heinous crime of tremendous magnitude? If it is in fact so, Pro has not actually shown the impact, has not actually argued that it is a heinous crime of tremendous magnitude. He simply argued it is to declare their life is worthless and assumed everyone would agree this is some horrible crime of tremendous magnitude.

And for these reasons I am proud to oppose the resolution.
Debate Round No. 1


I will answer your first point and rebuttal in two ways.

The first is through the argument that torture is ineffective. There is no way to know that a person holds knowledge beforehand, any information must be verified after applying the torture.

What I mean is, underlying your point there is the inherent assumption that you are in fact, torturing someone who does know something. However, in the manner torture is applied, you can torture 100 people and get 1 statement of truth from them, along with 99 untrue statements-a waste of resources and manpower.

However, it is impossible to ascertain whether you will *ever* get true information from torture.

"Torture is an ineffective counterinsurgency strategy. One defense of torture is the "ticking bomb" scenario - the idea that an imminent, massive threat to civilians might be stopped by a single detainee who possesses crucial information and will yield actionable intelligence under physical coercion.

Despite fearful anecdotal claims, the effectiveness of torture in generating intelligence is questionable at best. But we do know that torture produces many false confessions and new enemies, and distracts from more effective, legitimate techniques of interrogation and intelligence-gathering." (1)

I would contend that there are better means of information-gathering, such as building trust and cooperation within Muslim communities. Local cooperation, allies such as Pakistan, etc, are all means to gain reliable information. Torture however, erodes our ability to maintain trust.

"Preventing terrorism is a question of good police work, built on strong ties with the communities that host insurgents, sophisticated knowledge of criminal networks, and swift cooperation among agencies and allies. But current US tactics alienate global publics and local communities, while the secrecy torture requires fosters bureaucratic bungling." (1)

The second answer I would make to your point is on a moral level.

Your argument is circular. You can only justify the statement "If that is true, then if they knew the truth, they would state it, to stop the torture from continuing." after they've been tortured, not before. So you claim 'It's legitimate to torture terrorists because we know they're withholding information, but we don't have proof that they know anything until they reveal it under torture'. You need some sort of external reasoning as to why we *know* that these individuals have information without using information gained from torture as a legitimation of the practice.

It's like being back in the 15th century and having the Church call someone a heretic. They have no external proof that you are a heretic, and how do they get proof? They torture you until you confess, and then say "Look this person confessed! They are a heretic! Torture is legitimate!"

There is no situation in which torture can be considered legitimate by external reasoning. The only way you can legitimate torture is by the end result, forcing you to forgo the negative nature of the action itself.

The reasoning for torture can be defined as thus:

1. We *believe* that an individual has important information that they are withholding.

2. There is a pressing need to obtain this information.

3. We will go to any means, including causing psychological and physical harm in order to get the information.

4. The causing of that psychological and physical harm will be justified by the results we obtain.

This logic is inherently wrong:

It gives no value to the psychological and physical harm incurred in the process of torture.

When you evaluate on a means-ends basis, you must determine if the harm incurred in the means is outweighed by the potential harm incurred by the ends.

I would argue that to torture is to forgo the calculation of harm incurred in the means. You say "We don't care if we cause this person harm because we want the information from them."

This applies to any torture. There is no clear standard which we can apply which says 'it is legitimate to torture X person and not Y person" because at the point where we come to believe that A. Torture is legitimate and B. Y person is withholding valuable information, we can then apply torture to Y.

So to say that it is legitimate to torture some persons, you must also be willing to say that it is legitimate to torture *any* person that is believed to be withholding information.

Consider this scenario:

Your close family member/friend was involved in situation that could potentially relate to a terrorist attack. They have knowledge of the situation, but they don't want to say anything because their knowledge isn't certain and they're worried about getting it wrong, and getting the wrong person hurt.

Is it legitimate to torture them in order to get that information?

For this reason, we have to consider that the harm incurred in torturing one person is equal to any end harm that could possibly come about. To legitimate torture is to declare that life in and of itself has no value, that the value of life is only arbitrary, and can be stripped away at the whim of a government or person.

You say 'So what we declare the lives of terrorists conspiring to kill innocent Americans to be "worthless"'

It is this attitude that truly scares me. It doesn't bother you if I tell you 'the Government has the ability to randomly label a person as an 'enemy combatant', strip them of any rights, apply physical and psychological torture to them?

The concept of 'worthlessness' is the concept which belies genocide, mass murder, etc. To be able to view another human being as worthless is to arbitrarily declare that 'This person no longer has the right to live. Because I say so.' Are you God, to be able to declare this?

And you go further than this! You contend that we can apply *mass* torture, and then compare stories to find the truth.

Scenario: The KKK plan to bomb a church in Missouri. The FBI collects every 10th white man with any hint of connection to the KKK in Missouri and then tortures them, and compares their stories. Is this legitimate?

The broad, arbitrary powers your logic grants to the government is truly frightening. To say that mass torture is a legitimate tool of information gathering is an obscenity.

To your second point:

"Torture escalates conflict. The use of torture by targeted societies is strongly associated with an increase in the severity of terror used against them. In interviews with imprisoned terror leaders from the Palestinian territories to India, they state that they adopted and were supported in bloodier tactics when democratic enemies resorted to torture and attacks on civilians.

The "torture-terror nexus" can be seen in Israel. The first intifada was militant but largely peaceful, while the second intifada was characterized by suicide bombings. The tough Israeli response to the first, which an Israeli inquiry showed involved the mistreatment of about 85 percent of Palestinian prisoners, appears to have temporarily suppressed one uprising while planting the seeds of greater violence in the next." (1,2)

To your third point:

This is illogical. Stopping terrorism requires international cooperation. How can the US, which is declared as a protector of human rights, ask other countries for help to fight terrorism and in promoting human rights if we violate the sanctity of the human being by torture?

"The promotion of democracy and human rights is a key element of U.S. foreign policy and fosters a rules-based international system anchored in the protection of human dignity. But our ability to achieve this goal -- indeed, even our adherence to this strategic objective -- is severely compromised when our own conduct is widely perceived to violate human rights." (2)


Length is not a substitute for substance. Please try to be pithy, do you have any idea how many other debates you're holding up making me read your redundant arguments for this one? For you I forgot to explain why flag burning should be banned so please, try to keep it to 4k characters?

Con's Independent Points:
1. Effectiveness of Torture.
You cannot actually argue for the ban of torture because it's ineffective. Torture is a tool for gathering information. So is the promise of leniency, the offering of a reward, the deprivation of sleep, and granting of immunity. If the issue is effectiveness, then it should be up to the agent on the field to decide what method to use. None of us, spectators, speculators on our ivory pedestal, know when just when the "ticking bomb" scenario will take place. By all means, RECOMMEND our agents not to use torture. By all means, INFORM them of the statistics and the data about the effectiveness of torture in general. By all means TEACH our field agents that "the effectiveness of torture in generating intelligence is questionable at best", but if its a tool for generating intelligence, let it be at their disposal.
By allowing the use of torture, at the very least agents could at least use the threat to coerce unwilling potential informants. And let's face it, there aren't exactly many terrorists out there dying to tell us the information we need to save American citizens are there?

As to the argument of building strong ties with communities that host insurgents, if it were that easy, there wouldn't be insurgents to begin with. And when American lives are at stake from an imminent attack, we don't have time to go around building strong ties. I am all for opening as many channels of information gathering as possible to our intelligence agents. And so let them decide whether or not the use of torture is worth the risk of alienating local communities.

By taking the choice away from our intelligence agents, Pro makes one of two claims. Either the Intelligence Agency is completely unaware of the effectiveness of torture and is staffed by idiots who bury their head into the sand and believes everything they're told and have no experience at interrogation and sorting truth from fabrication, OR our Intelligence Agency is composed of Sadists and Masochists who delight in the torturing and brutal treatment of others and commit torture not out of a desire to protect American safety but out of the pleasure of doing so. Which one is it?

To accuse our Intelligence Agency of being like the Catholic Church of the 15th Century is the height of irresponsibility. It is essentially accusing the Intelligence Agency of torturing people for fun and without justification. It is accusing the Intelligence Agency of torturing people they do not have just cause to believe to be terrorists. It is also a completely unsupported supposition. Con brings up no examples of any innocently tortured individual, nor even dares to make that accusation directly. His roundabout hints have been noted and thus far refuted.

(note, the moral argument is not a refutation, its an independent point of the Con and thus will be addressed later)

2. Dishearten the enemies of America
I'm glad you decided to resort to history to support your argument. Because history is against you. History is filled with examples of when a conquering empire employed savagery to cow resistance. Particular to Iraq of course was the savage destruction of the Mongols. Against India, there was the British atrocities. And relatively modern, against Tibet, the Chinese were also quite ruthless. After a strong display of ruthlessness, the enemies of all the overlords quieted down for a considerable period of time.
Now am I saying it is a good thing to discourage / dishearten the enemies of America? Personally I'm not much for it. But some are, and it is a consequence.

3. The Duty of the American Government
I repeat. The Duty of the American Government is to protect American citizens. The comfort of the lives of foreign nationals trying to destroy America comes, always comes, secondary to the duty of the American Government to protect American Citizens. Con here is trying to argue that America can better serve its citizens by protecting the human rights of foreign nationals trying to destroy America because it would then bring about "international cooperation" which would then stop terrorism.
So let me get this straight ... Osama Bin Laden attacked us because France didn't cooperate with us? Did he attack us because we were enemies with Saudia Arabia? Are you also saying Germany and Japan will stop arresting terrorists just because we torture ours? At no point did you mention any specific consequences of permitting torture in regards to this nebulous "international cooperation". And so my argument stands as it is: The duty of America is to Americans.

Con's Independent Points
1. The Moral Level
"It gives no value to the psychological and physical harm incurred in the process of torture"
Correction. It gives no value to the psychological and physical harm incurred in the process of torture OF FOREIGN NATIONALS TRYING TO DESTROY THE UNITED STATES. As I have stated more than once, the United States Government exists for the citizens of the United States. The lives of American citizens are thus worth more, far more, than the lives of foreign nationals, and especially foreign nationals trying to destroy the United States. And don't even try to claim all lives are worth the same. If America believed all lives are worth the same, we would be spending trillions trying to help the people of Sudan, the people of Rwanda, the people of the Democratic Republic of Cong, the people of India, etc. If all lives are worth the same, there would be no debate on outsourcing, no debate on immigration, etc. Heck, we don't even believe all American lives are worth the same, but at least we pay that lip service. The simple truth is, from the perspective of most Americans, and the perspective of the American government, our fathers and brothers, mothers and sisters, their lives and their happiness is worth more than the suffering of foreign nationals trying to destroy the United States.

Even if they were not enemies of the United States, which they are, by being foreign nationals, they are outside the considerations of the United States. Maybe some day America will experience a moral transformation that will allow us to cherish the lives of Iraqis as much as the lives of our brothers, sisters, friends, and neighbors, but that day is a long way off, and will continue to be a long way off so long as half of America remains too conservative to want such universal brotherhood.
That this scares you is not an argument. If it scares you, by all means try to transform human nature, maybe splice some empathy into the human DNA. Might do us some good, might not, depends on who you ask, but the point is, what you want Americans to be is not what Americans are at the present.

2. Torturing everyone.
I don't actually see where you get this point. As I mentioned, Americans value the life, comfort, and security of Americans. Thus we have strong limitations on what the government can do to Americans. The grant of power given to them by the people restrict them from torturing Americans, for whatever reason. Foreign nationals trying to destroy the United States are not Americans. Therefore the restrictions imposed on the Government by us in regards to ourselves are irrelevant.

And for all these reasons I am proud to oppose.
Debate Round No. 2


To your first argument:

1. Torture differs from the rest of the interrogation methods you list because it is specifically designed to cause physical and psychological harm to the subject. Not only that, torture is against the 8th Amendment, against the Geniva Convention, and against the United States principle of upholding human rights.

Your argument here is flawed in two ways:

1. You don't answer my argument about the arbitrary nature of torture, something I'll elaborate on with the moral argument.

2. You don't answer the fact that if torturing *suspected* terrorists is legitimate, why is it not legitimate to torture American citizens who are withholding valuable information.

Next, the point of building strong ties within communities is something which occurs before the 'ticking bomb' scenario takes place. My argument is that torture erodes the possibility of cooperation with Muslim communities, so when/if the scenario occurs, cooperation will not be a possibility.

To your next argument, I make the claim that the American mindset is exactly the one you hold: Perceived security is more valuable than upholding human rights. I never said our intelligence agencies aren't intelligent, nor that they are sadists. I find it sad that you and the American government seems to forget our promise to uphold a 'democratic' Middle East and our notion that we want to promote human rights across the Earth.

How can we uphold democracy elsewhere when we ignore the very tenets of democracy at home (that all persons should be free and equal). Maybe we should change it to 'Some American citizens are free and equal, everyone else is subject to torture and violence'.

I'll address the next two arguments before going into the moral argument.

2. The examples you provide are misleading for two reasons.

1. The mongols/chinese engaged in full blown suppression. I.E. A town would rebel against the Mongols and the Mongols would raze the entire town to the ground. I suppose we could start nuking Middle Eastern cities to accomplish this tactic?

2. Terrorists fight a guerrilla war. It is not the case of the Tibetans or the subjects of the Mongols because those persons didn't have the capacity to strap a bomb to themselves, run into a Church and blow it up, or pick up an AK-47 and blaze away at American troops.

I could go into detail here on the nature of an occupying force trying to hold a country that is infiltrated by guerrilla combatants. I won't unless it proves necessary by your next argument, as you don't want me writing too much.

Torture will only incite more violence, and bring more people to their cause. Have terrorist attacks in Iraq slowed at all since Guantanamo? And I ask you this-if terrorists captured and tortured Americans, would your first reaction be fear or anger. I think the latter.

3. What about the duty of the American government to uphold human rights? To spread democracy and freedom? Isn't that what we're doing in the Middle East?

Have you forgotten the 8th Amendment? The Bill of Rights? The concepts of Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, freedom of the individual.

My question to you, is why, if we don't deprive American criminals of these rights, should we deprive foreign nationals of them. If an American were convicted of aiding terrorists, they'd (presumably) get a trial and be afforded all of their rights, but yet we revoke these rights to anyone not American.

What about a hostage situation? Someone who takes 10 hostages and threatens to kill them if police don't let them go. Do we strip them of their rights as an American? No, we don't-and yet this is the same scenario as with a terrorist.. someone looking to kill innocent Americans.

The other point I made is that international cooperation is critical to helping stop terrorism.

Its the nature of hypocrisy. A country that says 'We support human rights' and then engages in torture will not be believed to be a supporter of human rights.

Sure, maybe the US can do it alone. But wouldn't it be better to have the aid of the rest of the world behind us in fighting terrorism? More money, more manpower, more technology, less safe havens for terrorists. How are we to do this when we engage in actions that are destructive to the very principles which we hold to be 'American'?

To the moral argument:

"The simple truth is, from the perspective of most Americans, and the perspective of the American government, our fathers and brothers, mothers and sisters, their lives and their happiness is worth more than the suffering of foreign nationals trying to destroy the United States. "

Are you serious? Your basis for this argument is 'The majority of Americans care more about themselves than others, so torture is morally legitimate'?

"And don't even try to claim all lives are worth the same. If America believed all lives are worth the same, we would be spending trillions trying to help the people of Sudan"

I would contend that all lives *should* be the same, the fact that Americans choose to look at it otherwise is a disgrace. What America *believes* and what is *right* are two very different things. The moral argument rests upon the fact that the very act of torture is wrong.

Are you saying we're justified in ignoring genocide because Americans simply don't care about it?

Brief summation of the moral argument:

1. The only possible justification for torture comes after you apply torture (You torture someone and evaluate the results).

2. When you engage in torture, you don't know what the outcome will be-the information you gain might be useless.

3. This means you devalue the inherent harm involved in torture-"It's okay to torture someone as long as there is a *slim* chance of gaining useful information"

4. Therefore, unless you can provide external justification for torture, you legitimate using torture in any circumstance where information *may* be gained that saves lives.

This is what I mean when I critique the arbitrary nature of torture. Americans seem to be fine with torture as long as its not done to 'Americans', but they ignore the fact that there is no restriction on the government from applying torture to any person they claim holds information.

What's the point of having rights if the government can arbitrarily strip them away? Rights should either universally apply, or not apply at all.

You don't answer the scenario I provided: If a close family member, or even yourself, was involved in a 'ticking bomb' scenario, would the government be legitimated in torturing you to get information?

As long as you continue to say "The government should not torture Americans', you continue to agree that torture in itself is bad. There can be no other reason-if torture is so useful, why should it not be done to everyone and anyone who is withholding useful information?

Provide me a justification for why torture should not be used against Americans, but should be used against foreign nationals. All you say is 'the government won't torture Americans', but you don't say why they shouldn't.


MoonDragon613 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


What is this?

Your second argument was 7,500 characters in length. And you refuse to read mine because its the same length?

Don't try to make me look bad in the comments-if you're not capable of holding up the debate, then just say so and don't bother wasting my time.

I give up on this debate. Either people aren't willing to read more than two sentences, or they're people who don't have an ounce of common sense and will reject what I say on face, without reading or listening to it at all.

Was this short enough for you?


MoonDragon613 forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by C4747500 14 years ago
Moondragon, I responded to what you said.

Its not my duty to provide new and entertaining material for you. Read a book if you want that.

All I have to do is refute your previous arguments, which I did. Apparently you are either too lazy to bother answering, or you simply don't know how to.

Don't make excuses and try to blame it on me that you're incapable of holding up your end of the debate.

Bitter Sarcasm, you're an idiot. I never said that, nor would I ever advocate that. Go find something better to do with your time than making insipid comments on debates you don't understand.
Posted by Bitter_Sarcasm 14 years ago
1) yes we are pawns, you are a pawn: a pawn of ignorant, self-proclaimed righteous fanatics

2)becuz taking a terrorist, who has information on the next attack on American soil, to a buffet and then a hot jacuzzi is what our nation really needs to defend itself. or better yet, we can go do things more half heartedly...haven't done that in a while, oh wait, i forgot, that was Iraq...
Posted by MoonDragon613 14 years ago
If your tactic was to inundate instead of debate then by all means. Your second round has added nothing new to the debate. Length is not a substitute for quality, and unless you add something new, and thus making reading what you write a worthwhile activity, I see no reason to answer.
Posted by C4747500 14 years ago
If you have that much trouble reading 8,000 characters then find a way to petition about the limit.

I'll be back to this in a few hours. You do have 3 days, use it, instead of responding in the first one if it's that much of an issue.
Posted by C4747500 14 years ago
1) 'Torture Doesn't Work', 11/14/07, Brysk Alison. Published in Christian Science Monitor.

2) 'Self-Inflicted Wounds', 11/6/07, Mora, Alberto and Shattuck, John. Published in The Washington Post.

The links I have are from lexis-nexis if you want them, I'm not sure if you have access to it.

I posted them here because I ran out of room :)
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