Bioethics Discussion Blog: Can Torture Ever Be Ethical?

REMINDER: I AM POSTING A NEW TOPIC ABOUT ONCE A WEEK OR PERHAPS TWICE A WEEK. HOWEVER, IF YOU DON'T FIND A NEW TOPIC POSTED, THERE ARE AS OF MARCH 2013 OVER 900 TOPIC THREADS TO WHICH YOU CAN READ AND WRITE COMMENTS. I WILL BE AWARE OF EACH COMMENTARY AND MAY COME BACK WITH A REPLY.

TO FIND A TOPIC OF INTEREST TO YOU ON THIS BLOG, SIMPLY TYPE IN THE NAME OR WORDS RELATED TO THE TOPIC IN THE FIELD IN THE LEFT HAND SIDE AT TOP OF THE PAGE AND THEN CLICK ON “SEARCH BLOG”. WITH WELL OVER 900 TOPICS, MOST ABOUT GENERAL OR SPECIFIC ETHICAL ISSUES BUT NOT NECESSARILY RELATED TO ANY SPECIFIC DATE OR EVENT, YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO FIND WHAT YOU WANT. IF YOU DON’T PLEASE WRITE TO ME ON THE FEEDBACK THREAD OR BY E-MAIL DoktorMo@aol.com

IMPORTANT REQUEST TO ALL WHO COMMENT ON THIS BLOG: ALL COMMENTERS WHO WISH TO SIGN ON AS ANONYMOUS NEVERTHELESS PLEASE SIGN OFF AT THE END OF YOUR COMMENTS WITH A CONSISTENT PSEUDONYM NAME OR SOME INITIALS TO HELP MAINTAIN CONTINUITY AND NOT REQUIRE RESPONDERS TO LOOK UP THE DATE AND TIME OF THE POSTING TO DEFINE WHICH ANONYMOUS SAID WHAT. Thanks. ..Maurice

FEEDBACK,FEEDBACK,FEEDBACK! WRITE YOUR FEEDBACK ABOUT THIS BLOG, WHAT IS GOOD, POOR AND CONSTRUCTIVE SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT TO THIS FEEDBACK THREAD

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Can Torture Ever Be Ethical?

Although our U.S. government insists that no torture is used on their prisoners, there are those who wonder whether torture might even be ethical and necessary. An argument is given by those supporting the limited use of torture that if human lives are at risk and there is a chance that they could be saved by information obtained from some person, then torture methods to get that person to provide the information is appropriate and ethical. There are those who say that torture rarely gets any valid information since those tortured would lie to have the torture stopped.

The Harvard University Gazette in their November 2, 2006 issue describes a talk by University of Texas Law Professor Sanford Levinson made at the John F. Kennedy School of Government on October 26, 2006. In the article "Can Torture Ever Be Ethical?", Alvin Powell describes Levinson's example of such rationalization of torture: In 2004, German police captured a man they believed had kidnapped a young boy. They questioned him for two days, and then, fearing for the child's safety, a senior officer authorized an interrogator to use pain, if necessary, to get information.
After being told what was being planned but before any force was used, the suspect confessed and told police he had killed the boy and where they could find the body.
Though they had gotten the desperately needed information without resorting to violence, both the superior and the interrogator were charged with a crime under the German constitution's absolute ban on torture. Rather than going to jail, however, the two were let off with a fine after the court found "massive mitigating circumstances."

In the war on terror, Levinson said, prevention is how to stop terrorist acts, which means it's key to get information on imminent strikes.
German courts, even faced with a constitutional prohibition, found that in this case, torture was "quasi-acceptable," otherwise the two would have gone to jail.


It appears that society though not accepting torture is more accepting of war since according to
the article Levinson said wars, though violent, are distinguished from torture by having willing participants on both sides. That distinction blurs, however, as war increasingly involves civilians.

Do any of my visitors think that torture has merit and is ethical under certain situations? Would one of the current situations be that which apparently faces the United States and other countries and that is the "war on terrorism"? ..Maurice.

16 Comments:

At Friday, October 12, 2007 7:14:00 AM, Anonymous bob koepp said...

Maurice - This one really, really burns me. Torture is a form of terrorism directed at helpless individuals. There's something worse, though, than being tortured -- namely, to engage in torture.

 
At Friday, October 12, 2007 11:00:00 AM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Therefore, Bob, if our government is allowing and performing torture then our government is not morally better than the terrorists we are said to be fighting. If our government won't disclose methods of interrogation for "security reasons" but only says they do not perform torture, how can we establish for ourselves the truthfulness of the claim,how our government defines torture and that torture is not being performed? Must we wait until another series of pictures are smuggled out of detention areas to document that the government is lying to us? ..Maurice.

 
At Friday, October 12, 2007 6:24:00 PM, Blogger MJ_KC said...

Torture may be someone's idea of a quick way to get an answer, but I do not see any way that it can be considered ethical, no matter how many lives may be at stake.

If someone is going to do this, they should be honest with themselves about what they are doing and not try to claim some higher moral purpose for what they are doing.

 
At Saturday, October 13, 2007 6:01:00 AM, Anonymous bob koepp said...

Maurice - Yes, our (USA) government is engaging in torture. The practice of waterboarding, to cite just one example, can't be seen as anything else.

It's about time we rounded up those who have facilitated torture, including politicians and judges, as well as those "functionaries" who are actually involved in dispensing torture, and had very public trials.

 
At Saturday, October 13, 2007 6:25:00 AM, Blogger Sandy Levinson said...

Should anyone be interested in reading my entire argument, instead of the excerpts from the Harvard Gazette, it has been published as “Slavery and the Phenomenology of Torture,” 74 SOCIAL RESEARCH 149-168 (2007). If that is difficult to track down, I will be happy to send a copy, in pdf form, to anyone who wants it. Please send an email to slevinson@law.utexas.edu.

sandy levinson

 
At Saturday, October 13, 2007 7:59:00 AM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Bob, how can there be an open and fair trial if the argument of the "functionaries" will be that for the protection of the American people their decisions and activities must remain secret? Further, that by the very request to provide facts for the trial, the requesters are knowingly giving in to the terrorists and are therefore unAmerican, unpatriotic and perhaps treasonous. Maybe I am overblowing your suggestion but do you really think there could ever be a public trial? ..Maurice.

 
At Saturday, October 13, 2007 8:17:00 AM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Sandy, thank you so much for coming to my blog and your willingness to contribute further to this important discussion. Of course, I would be eager to read further your views regarding torture and would be pleased to receive a pdf file of your writing.

To my other visitors: in order to keep this thread in a discussion mode and for those who want to remain anonymous to remain anonymous, please write the request for the article directly to Professor Levinson's e-mail address slevinson@law.utexas.edu and NOT make the request on this blog. Thank you. ..Maurice.

 
At Saturday, October 13, 2007 1:35:00 PM, Blogger Stephen Drake said...

Like a lot of people in the disability community, I have two reactions to discussions on torture.

First, I find myself in general agreement with the sentiments expressed in condemning any cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners in any setting by anyone. The APA resolution passed in August was a good thing to see.

OTOH, a lot of us are very aware that torture is implicitly sanctioned by organizations such as the APA - as long as it's directed at people with disabilities and defined as "treatment."

A disability advocate just initiated a challenge to the APA to bring it's positions on treatment of people with disabilities in line with its positions on treatment of prisoners.

Or do y'all think torture is justified if a professional defines it as "treatment?"

You can read the text of the letter to the APA here:

http://disabledsoapbox.blogspot.com/2007/10/call-for-ethical-and-unprejudiced.html

 
At Saturday, October 13, 2007 6:45:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Stephen, very interesting letter to be sent to the American Psychologic Association. But what I wonder is whether one can use the excuse of "intent" when considering whether what appears as torture is actually torture. In that I mean, the folks performing torture in our U.S. Government as part of interrogation process can say that their intent is to save lives. The doctors treating autistic children or those with the various psychologic or developmental handicaps might say that their use of skin electric shocks,food deprivation and prolonged mechanical restraint, as well as other painful and aversive techniques are being performed because there is evidence based documentation that such techniques have efficacy in treatment even though there is still controversy about the benefit. As a devils advocate, I ask is torture definition absolute or might a critical analysis of the moral or ethical intent play a role in establishing what is torture and what is not? ..Maurice.

 
At Sunday, October 14, 2007 8:05:00 AM, Anonymous bob koepp said...

Maurice - I am not at all persuaded by arguments that a free people must be kept ignorant for its own good. If an open and fair trial is "politically impossible" -- well, so much the worse for politics.

 
At Monday, October 15, 2007 12:54:00 AM, Anonymous Emily said...

For those that defend our government's technique of interrogating prisoners as humane, I wonder if they would object if American prisoners of war were to be treated in the same way.

 
At Monday, October 15, 2007 8:38:00 AM, Blogger Stephen Drake said...

Maurice,

the argument you use is precisely the one that the handful of defenders have used in the past. But it doesn't hold up well under close scrutiny.

States like Illinois don't allow food deprivation or inflicting pain as behavior management tools, period. To the best of my knowledge, no students from this state are placed at JRC.

I'm sure you can find an analagous Illinois kid for every inmate at JRC. And they're being given services - humanely.

The logic you've used in the "devil's advocate" is scary. It says "we will do things to kids with labels we can't do to adults - simply because kids have fewer rights." (and I'm not saying that is actually your position)

When defining "torture" and related terms, what should we be guided by? The defenses of those inflicting the abuse or the complaints and cries of those experiencing it? --Stephen

 
At Monday, October 22, 2007 8:41:00 AM, Blogger LisaMarie said...

No, no, no, no, no. Torture is never ethical. Period. No human being has the right to do that to another, and we should fear what we ourselves will become if we do. Of course, the all-purpose argument that the "interests of society" outweigh the interests of any particular individual being hung by his thumbs and beaten can always be trotted out to justify torture, as it is used to justify practically everything else we want to do to other people. But that doesn't make it right. The fact that the state takes my money to torture people in my name shows just how little it represents any values of mine.

 
At Monday, October 22, 2007 1:53:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

But LisaMarie, what can the average citizen whose money is being used DO when our President and the government reassure us with "We don't do torture"? ..Maurice.

 
At Monday, October 22, 2007 3:48:00 PM, Anonymous bob koepp said...

I'm sure LisaMarie can answer for herself, but since I obsess about this topic, I'll be repetitive...

When our president and government "reassure" us that "We don't do torture," the average citizen can recognize the lie, and can demand that these "public servants" be tried for crimes against humanity.

 
At Tuesday, November 06, 2007 6:57:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The desirability of torture can be attacked from any number of dimensions. In addition to the ethical/moral dimension, there's the pragmatic/practical dimension. Regarding the latter, here's what Steven Miles, M.D. ("Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity and the War on Terror") writes about the effects of torture following a description of torture/abuse in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay Prison and healthcare providers complicity in the torture/abuse. "We know that torture does not advance long-term national interests. It does not procure reliable information; the lies that it elicits overload and confound intelligence analysts. Its evidence cannot be used in civilized trials. It alienates potential recruits and informants. It enrages populations at whom it is directed, and it mobilizes them against the government that practices it. It draws its practitioners into unworthy relationships with nations who torture their own peoples or who torture on behalf of others. It makes civilized allies less willing to cooperate with extradition and intelligence sharing. The experience with torture in the war on terror has not found a new value in torture; it has confirmed old lessons: torture is a fruitless, often counterproductive, use of state power.
Torture's effects on the torturing society are equally destructive. Societies mobilized to torture are weakened by the vicious dehumanization that they must propagate to support the practice. Torture laws erode respect for the justice of law itself. The honor and traditions of institutions like medicine, law, journalism, and the military are tarnished by acquiescence in torture. Political reputations are diminished when the false conceit that torture can be confined to narrow licit channels is discovered. Torture responds to the barbarity of terrorism in kind. Like the terrorism it would deter, torture undermines civil societies." c. ray. b

 

Post a Comment

<< Home