Recently, Jack Straw was sued for being complicit in torture.

It’s a difficult issue – one one hand, torture is very bad. On the other hand, if you are able to extract information that could save lives, perhaps sometimes it could be justified? Or at least that is the argument that has been proposed by many people, including Sam Harris. At least that is the argument he made in 2005 when he published “In Defense of Torture” in the Huffington Post, though he qualifies this extensively on his website.

I personally think the argument is far more clear-cut, however.

Firstly, the evidence just isn’t there that torture works. I would like to say simply that “torture doesn’t work” but that is perhaps an unjustifiable claim. It’s very hard to do controlled trials of torture (thankfully) but there is evidence on both sides to suggest the efficacy of torture. Ultimately, it probably does yield information, that information is almost certainly unreliable, but if you are able to verify what is true and what isn’t, you can then argue there is some advantage to torture. Then again, you can argue there isn’t. We can’t conclusively say either way.

More importantly, however, even from a utilitarian perspective, which is similar to the position put forward by Harris in The Moral Landscape, torture is not justifiable.

The reason is, in order to allow torture in a utilitarian world, we all have to live in a world where people are tortured. So yes, the needs of the many may outweigh the needs of the one, and extracting information by force to save more lives could seem like a good idea at first. But what you’re actually doing is making everyone suffer because then everyone has to live in a world where we torture people.

This isn’t a nice world to live in. I really, really don’t like the idea that the government could wrongly suspect me of something and try to torture information out of me. But even if I knew it was never going to happen to me, someone has to actually do the torture as well, and someone was to authorise the torture. That’s a horrible job in itself. I don’t want torture to be any part of my world, no matter what side I’m on.

From that perspective then, the lives we would save from torture (which as we’ve already discussed, there is no conclusive evidence we would save anyway) are outweighed by the needs of the over six billion people on this planet who should have the right to live in a torture-free world.



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This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 24th, 2012 at 12:10 pm and is filed under Religion & Politics, Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.