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Arguments on the Justification of Torture

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Human Rights
Wordcount: 1270 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Christopher Tindale defines torture as “any systemic act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from that person or a third person information or confession punishing that person for an act committed or suspected to have been committed, or intimidating or dehumanizing that person or other persons “ (Brecher,2016,pp 170) . However, not all bodies would agree to that statement as Goss, a former CIA director is quoted in the 2005 March testimony before the Senate as labelling waterboarding a ‘professional interrogation technique (Brecher, 2016 pp171). Furthermore, Green and Ward (2004, p126) argue a definition of torture cannot usefully encompass all forms of human pain and suffering inflicted by the state. Torture is not exclusive to authoritian regimes such as Saudi Arabia , china and Iraq but first world nations and multi-party democracy states such as the United kingdom, United states and Israel have all been identified as torturing nations in the Amnesty international report of 2000 (Green and Ward, 2004, p124)

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In the current war on terrorism, the debate has opened since the various controversies such as Abu ghraib prison scandal-captives were forced to be sexually humiliated and violently tortured. In addition, the rise in the awareness of the topic at hand. Although, its usage be justified to find out the location of a kidnapped victim or find out the location of a bomb and to find out more critical information from said terrorist.

Ticking bomb scenario put forward by Alan Dershowitz (2004, p132) argues torture is justified when we are up against time regarding a terrorist attack. Whether it is unethical or not to torture an individual who has information about a potential terrorist attack but is withholding it, can torture be used to prevent the deaths of many? Time is of the upmost importance when it comes to terrorists attacks due to the intention to attack in a public setting. It can be unethical for the individual to be tortured but also regarded as unethical behaviour to potentially condemn thousands of others to an avoidable misfortune. Its why Alan dershowitz proposes torture to be legalised as states will often, use torture eventually so they should be able to at the least try to manage its use via ‘Torture warrants’. Furthermore, Miriam Gur-aye (2004, p183-195) proposes it to be used in a last resort scenario. In her view, its justifiable in extreme situations to prevent further deaths in the case of potential terror attacks. In official judicial proceedings, self defence can used to defend its use.

However, torture becomes a ‘justifiable’ practice to protect the lives of citizens by gathering secrets and information which are critical in preventing deaths and reducing the impact of the threat to the state but many individuals such as Jean Amery would reveal that is not simply that as it is also used to ‘ subdue a population by state terrorism.’ (Green and Ward, 2004, 131)

Jean Amery’s tale of Nazi torture which physically has put him in suffering 20 years after the incidents, wasn’t just physical pain as mentally the feeling that he was truly helpless with no escape or end in mind was a never-ending nightmare. Eventually committed suicide thirty years later due to a breakdown of his mental state due to the repercussions of his bodily torture (Brecher, 2016, p.172)

Furthermore, there is an ‘uneven distribution of power & agency according to Sussman (2005, p5). The victim is at the mercy of the perpetrator. unable to put up any real legal or moral resistance. Green and Ward (2004, p129) further allude to this by stating torture is more likely to appear when the perpetrators of torture devalue a section of population and in a sense, dehumanisation of individuals due to various ongoing conflicts between the perpetrators and the victims of the torture. For instance, Jews in Nazi Germany were dehumanised which was one factor of the torture and the persecution they faced. In addition, most torture victims are criminal suspects from the poorest and most marginalised sections of society. They are often already discriminated minorities and to contrast, most torturers being police officers and individuals in high government or military roles (Green and Ward, 2004, p138).

It Is arguable if torture always yield the results intended as Green and Ward (2004, p131) argue the real goal of torture is to instil fear and silence in the victim. To create an aura of submission and terror. This can lead to a continuous de-escalation of problems as Ginbar (2008, p158) states torture creates a moral black hole increasing anger and hostility in individuals which results in more problems of terrorist/criminal networks being birthed and increasing in number. Leads to a no holds barred conflict which means stronger forms of violence and crime will occur due to a ‘them rather than us mindset.’. One might seek to seek a submissive population/individual but instead find themselves having to deal with radicalisation and frustration as a response.

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There is also the moral and ethical objection to torture we must consider as Sussman (2005, p5) alludes to the Kantian moral theory-which is that Kant states you shouldn’t use another person to an end due to its unethical nature. Sussman states the Kantian would find it completely disrespectful and inharmonious to one’s self to treat another human in this manner and to degrade them in the most horrid of ways. You have stripped the persons autonomy and furthered them to humiliation. The harm does not stop with the individual as evidence accumulated by torture treatment centres around the world reveal children of tortured parents are reported to suffer “ a range of reactive symptom including psychological trauma, recurrent nightmares and increased states of anxiety “ (Green & Ward, 2004, p139).

In conclusion, torture is one of the biggest violations to a human’s dignity and body. It is worrying it has even become normalised in a CIA report. The CIA torture report 2014 also revealed no surprises and no persecutions whether it was the perpetrators, politicians or lawyers involved in the US or anywhere else (Brecher, 2016, p170). It is correctly outlawed by international law and condemned by humanitarian agencies it is alarming that it is on the rise, instead of its use being limited.  Green and Ward (2004, p124) find that that torture or ill treatment of suspects are widespread in over 150 countries which is also reported by the 2004 amnesty international report.


  • Brecher, B. (2016) Torture. In Jackson, R. (ed) Routledge Handbook of Critical Terrorism Studies. Oxon: Routledge. 170-180
  • Dershowitz, A. (2004) ‘Tortured Reasoning’, in Levinson, S. (ed) Torture: A Collection. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 257-280
  • Ginbar, Y. (2008) Why Not Torture Terrorists? Moral, Practical, and Legal Aspects of the “Ticking
  • Bomb” Justification for Torture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Green, P. and Ward, T. State Crime: Governments, Violence and Corruption (London: Pluto Press, 2004), Chapters 7 and 8.
  • Sussman, D. (2005). What’s Wrong with Torture? Philosophy & Public Affairs, 33(1), 1-33


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