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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Battle Torture - The Challenger - First Rebuttal

”If he believes that the gains from a certain measure will clearly outweigh its costs, yet still suspects that he ought not to adopt it, then he is in a dilemma produced by the conflict between two disparate categories if moral reason: categories that may be called utilitarian and absolutist”- Thomas Nagel, from Mortal Questions.


Before I go any further with this debate, it is important that we understand the meaning of the word “torture” to avoid a semantic argument. According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, the definition of torture is as follows:

tor·ture (tôr ch r)
n.
1.
a. Infliction of severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion.
b. An instrument or a method for inflicting such pain.
2. Excruciating physical or mental pain; agony: the torture of waiting in suspense.
3. Something causing severe pain or anguish.

However, in this day and age, torture has a different nature than it used to, and by that, I mean, it is employed to save lives rather than destroy them. Therefore, it may be acceptable and useful to restore the word to its’ original focus. “Interrogation” in the modern world can, at times, be synonymous with “torture.” Interrogation is used to glean information from persons, and often employs acts described as torture. Thus, it is necessary to visit the purpose of both. Indeed, we find that in the media, the word is completely subjective to the user in which light they would like to cast the torturing party in. So, if these words are interchangeable, does that mean that the purpose of these actions are the same? Sometimes. The only form of torture that is acceptable is (for all intents and purposes) synonymous enough to interrogation that it is essentially the same thing.

Another item that I must address is History. Though the debate is about the concept and implementation of torture itself, I mentioned in my opener that context is very important. My opponent did a wonderful job outlining a modern history of torture, and for the sakes of our stomachs (probably) omitted ancient examples of torture. Let me make this clear: Any action perpetrated for the purpose of sadism is indefensible, nor should it be defensible. Most, if not all instances of torture in the historical sense were brutal, heavy-handed, and did not serve any higher purpose other than furthering the power of the torturer. As the Iron Blogger brought up: the Holocaust was a disgusting exercise in the interests of sadism. Though many Nazis believed that what they were doing served a higher purpose, it is quite obvious that the world would have nothing to gain from that sort of “final solution.”

Torture was rarely used to serve a purpose that was acceptable by moral standards (except some religious ones, unfortunately.) The fact of the matter is that torture was an ugly business, and was not truly refined until the modern era for the specific purpose of interrogation. That word (interrogation) is simply a dressing-up of something that is less appealing, so it doesn’t sound as bad.

Now, in order to end my non sequitur, I will revisit the argument of utility. According to Hume: “…there appear only three principles of connection among ideas, namely, resemblance, contiguity in time or place, and cause or effect.” So what is the cause of torture? In a sense, it could be ascertained that the cause of torture is want. However, in the modern setting, the cause of torture (at least in the western world) is regulated in respect to the tortured. This is to say that the focus of the torture is the recipient of it, and more specifically, their mind. The United States used torture to assist interrogation of combatants. It is from these methods that we have gleaned valuable information and saved lives. However, this form of torture is in no way synonymous with what it used to be. A good example is the Abu-Ghraib prison, regardless of the political ramifications.

Within a span of a few years, the definition of torture for some has drastically changed. How? Well, as illustrated in historical accounts, torture in the Middle East can entail any of the following: Chemical baths, amputations, rape, intense physical pain, branding, agonizingly slow murders, beatings, electrical torture and starvation. I will use the example of Odai Hussein. His treatment of Iraqis and others was purely sadistic, and does not fall under the category of torture with use. However, when the United States took over Abu-Ghraib prison, the method of torture changed. Instead of maiming prisoners, or forcing them to watch their spouses raped, US soldiers used to deprive them of sleep, sensory input, or play with their heads. Now, we all know what happened when a few of those soldiers got out of hand. However, no intense harm was done to these prisoners. The most common result of this mistreatment was either humiliation or periods of intense fear.

Earlier in this rebuttal, I quoted Thomas Nagel’s separation of Utilitarianism and Absolutism. I will quote him further (from War and Massacre):
“Utilitarianism gives primacy to a concern with what will happen. Absolutism gives primacy to what one is doing. The conflict between them arises because the alternatives we face are rarely just choices between total outcomes: they are also choices between alternative pathways or measures to be taken.”- Thomas Nagel

What Nagel asserts is the fact that decisions of action are rarely as absolute, or definitive. This is to say that there are some things that are impossible to determine their moral quality. Hume agrees: “Matters of fact, which are the second objects of human reason, are not ascertained in the same manner; nor is our evidence of their truth, however great, of a like nature with the foregoing. The contrary of every matter of fact is still possible; because it can never imply a contradiction, and is conceived by the mind with the same facility and distinctness, as if ever so conformable to reality.”(An enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.)
This implies that there are certain actions, however weighted in morality, are able to be wrong and right at the same time. For example: The act of causing someone pain is morally wrong. However, causing someone pain to prevent further moral violations, or help others is morally correct at the same time.

To make life easier on everyone, let us first clearly state our positions on the matter, shall we not? As I have demonstrated, I see that the utility of torturing (selectively) with no infirmity of purpose, or presence of sadism is a useful and acceptable thing. This follows the classical Utilitarian mindset. My opponent (Robin, please correct me if I am wrong!) seems to share in the Absolutist mindset by believing that the morality of actions regardless of result will always have the same value or detriment to them. My case that I must present to you is that the ethical by-products of an innately immoral action can be, in fact, not only of use, but a very moral and ethical indeed.

Even Immanuel Kant, someone who in principle would staunchly oppose torture throughout history (as well he should.) Allows for the moral worth of intent in purpose (from Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals):
“a good will is…good through its willing alone- that is, good in itself.” He goes on to say: “We will therefore take up the concept of duty, which includes that of a good will, exposed to certain subjective limitations and obstacles. These, so far from hiding a good will or disguising it, rather bring it out by contrast and make it shine forth more brightly.”

Therefore, it is the intent and cause behind duty that determines its’ moral worth. If done with correct purpose, the moral quality of the duty is good.

Kant continues: “To help others where one can is a duty.” Though by no means a utilitarian, Kant recognizes the importance of duty. Therefore, in accordance with a good will or intent (saving the lives of many) the duty of torturing/interrogating the target information-holder is good.

Now, this begs the question: who may perform this act? According to conventional wisdom, it is not a good idea to trust the common man or soldier (sorry Locke) with this task. Why? Because there is an almost certain presence of either bias or application of foreign purpose from the torturer, it is most probable to be lead to infirmity of purpose. The torturer is no longer torturing for the morally acceptable reason, the torturer is torturing for their own reasons. Sadism, among other tendencies, is the chief evil one has to be wary of.

Thomas Hobbes would argue (as he has about State) that the acceptable selection of someone to torture would be an “impartial observer.” One who has no feelings or biases towards helping or hurting the prisoner. However, this person would have to be driven solely by purpose, and adhere to that purpose against all others (excepting survival.)

This destroys the possibility of individuals with a pre-meditated goal to harm the tortured, as we’ve seen in Abu-Ghraib prison. For whatever reason, these soldiers did not violate the code of conduct on impulse. Whether they went to Iraq with the determination that they would “make ‘them’ pay,” or whether they saw something that so enraged them that they were able to justify in their own minds this deplorable action, they had to have had a reason (however sick and perverted) to do what they do. Sadism is not innate.

As I conclude this first rebuttal, I must reiterate that context is important as it provides ample evidence of torture’s failures. However, when debating about an issue that hinges on how we percieve ethical conduct, the most important piece to the debate is what defines good and evil. Using the words of those who theorized upon the subject of purpose and morals, I show how apparently important duty is to each of these philosophers (with the exception of the Hedonists.) In order to come to a synthesis of reason about the issue, one must examine the act, its’ intents, and its’ product(s) fully. When all is said and done, the utility of torture methods to glean information that can save lives outweighs the immediate moral dilemma of harming another human.

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