The Reasons Why Torture is Unacceptable

Torture has always been a tool employed by people to extract vital information from individuals that possess important knowledge or simply humiliate them into submission and despair. Historically, torture was used as a means to receive confessions from criminals and witnesses (Hoadley et al. 248). Only recently did it disappear from the legal systems of different countries, which, nevertheless, did not eradicate the practice. Today, torture techniques have transformed, become more humane, and continue to be used by the military and secret government agencies. The word itself has also been replaced with new names such as “coercive interrogation techniques,” which are not considered torture by the law yet constitute it in their essence. This situation raises new challenges for policymakers, researchers, and citizens and calls them to determine whether subjecting people to any kind of dress is acceptable. Yet, from a philosophical standpoint, torture is an unethical act that cannot be justified under any circumstances because it is unjust, dehumanizing, has potentially negative consequences, and causes a loss of moral authority.

Justice is viewed differently depending on a particular place in the world, yet in the western countries which espouse democratic values, it has always been strictly defined. At the core of their legal systems lie the liberal principles which postulate that a person has individual rights which must be observed by the state (Jacobs 20). The rule of law is a democratic concept which aims at protecting citizens from harm and ensuring order and stability, which are necessary for society’s prosperity and peace. When a person transgresses and violates the law, the state must punish them, yet in a way that would not be considered cruel or unusual. Any form of torture is the manifestation of cruelty because it constitutes an attack on a person’s dignity and integrity and denies them their right to be treated with respect. It contradicts liberal principles, does not have any moral reasoning behind it, and thus can be regarded as an unjust act which not only jeopardizes a tortured person’s life but also the rule of law.

One of the implications of torture is that it works to destroy a person’s identity and, as it was mentioned earlier, attacks their dignity, which eventually leads to dehumanization. This process causes those who perform torture to view people who are subjected to it, not as individuals but as simple objects which have to undergo physical or psychological suffering to produce the desired behavior. For example, the identities of prisoners at military detention centers have often kept a secret, which allows prison guards to employ “enhanced interrogation techniques” without any serious moral judgment about their actions (Ganzevoort and Sremac 28). This encourages further abuse and neglect of basic human rights, which is immoral and would be prosecuted under normal conditions in any civilized country. Yet, prisoners of war often find themselves in the grey area of law, which does not grant them any legal status and ultimately turns them into the property of their captors. This once again demonstrates how torture functions to undermine a person’s humanity, denying their individualism and autonomy, which eventually translates into more severe violence towards them.

An important factor that always has to be taken into consideration by policymakers when viewing the prospect of legalizing torture is the consequences it produces and the effects it has on the tortured. By subjecting people to inhumane conditions and degrading treatment, those who perform torture automatically provoke a response from the opposite side and give them reasons for retaliation. A person who was able to escape an environment that implied torture will be determined to seek justice, but if the legal path does not yield results, they may potentially turn to radical measures. Similarly, a country in which soldiers were subjected to unethical interrogation, which posed a risk to their lives in detention centers of their opponents, will be even more dedicated to fighting against their enemy. Eventually, torturers may find themselves at a disadvantage because their actions can cause resistance, which effect will overshadow any of the benefits derived as a result of torture. Thus, the implementation of torture cannot be justified since it generates even more dissent and conflicts and may have a significant negative impact on the party, which used duress and abuse.

There are, at the same time, people who claim that torture can be effective and often necessary when dealing with terrorists who have knowledge that may potentially save thousands of lives. Such a position follows a simple utilitarian logic, which states that an action can be considered ethical and best if it brings good to the majority of people (Bonnefon and Trémolière 137). Proponents of this idea believe that the life and rights of a person who has committed atrocious acts in the past can be neglected if they refuse to provide important information. Similar reasons were used as the grounds for establishing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, which housed inmates who were accused of war crimes, terrorist activity and considered to be extremely dangerous. The prison personnel employed a variety of cruel interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and placing prisoners into a small confinement box, to try to receive valuable information and confessions (Rosenberg). The events which took place in this detention camp sparked an international scandal, but there are still some people who believe that torture in Guantanamo was justified.

When discussing the possibility of using torture on terrorists and individuals who have committed heinous crimes for the sake of retrieving important information, people often do not consider its ethical implications for their country’s reputation. Countries at war always strive to create an image of moral superiority which would justify their activity in the eyes of the international community and portray them as the right ones. For example, the U.S. troops, during wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, had the noble task of fighting terrorist organizations to save the world from their attacks. Yet, as the war dragged on, cases such as murdering civilians emerged, which negatively affected the perception of American soldiers by people around the globe. Torture was certainly one of these factors which undermined the strong moral authority of the U.S. and made many individuals question the intentions of the country. Thus, countries subjecting terrorists to unethical interrogation practices risk losing their superior position as the defenders of justice because their actions are as cruel as the ones of their counterparts.

Moreover, generally disavowing torture but making an exception for terrorists creates a precedent that may gradually lead to the expansion of the list of people who can be subject to harsh interrogation methods. It is easier for a person to agree that torture is acceptable when they see that the one who is set to undergo it is a criminal who has hurt others. Yet, by accepting this, people make the first step towards recognizing torture as a viable means of achieving certain goals. Governments, especially authoritarian ones, or other parties which have an interest in normalizing torture can use it as a way to introduce new types of criminals who can be affected by it. Subsequently, as societies will grow more accustomed to the notion of torture, countries may experience a return to medieval practices and, as a result, suffer erosion in the sphere of human rights. Thus, it is crucial not to allow torture to become a new norm and avoid the loss of moral principles in societies.

Torture cannot be justified by any possible reasons or logic because it goes against justice, dehumanizes people, provokes retaliation, undermines countries’ moral authority, and jeopardizes societies’ ethical principles. Subjecting people to severe interrogation techniques is unjust because it denies a person’s human rights, which constitute the basis of the legal systems in western democracies. Torture causes those who perform it to dehumanize individuals who experience it, which subsequently strips the latter of their humanity and dignity. It can also work against the torturers because it forces the suffering party to harbor a desire for retribution and may lead to extremely unpleasant consequences, including deaths. Countries, which employ unethical interrogation practices against terrorists, risk losing their moral authority because torture is as inhumane as terrorism. Moreover, making a certain group of people eligible for torture sets a precedent that can in the future lead to an adoption of torture as acceptable for subjecting other segments of society to it.

Works Cited

Bonnefon, Jean-Francois, and Bastien Trémolière. Moral Inferences. Psychology Press. 2017.

Ganzevoort, Ruard, R., and Srdjan Sremac, editors. Trauma and Lived Religion. Springer. 2019.

Hoadley, Stephen., et al., editors. International Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism. Springer. 2019.

Jacobs, Jonathan A. The Liberal State and Criminal Sanction: Seeking Justice and Civility. Oxford UP. 2020.

Rosenberg, Carol. The New York Times, 2019.

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