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Torture, Cont. Spring 2013. Ticking bomb cases. Suppose we know X planted a bomb that is about to explode and would kill many people X is confessing, but not otherwise cooperating no other ways of extracting information. Ticking bomb cases and “war on terror”. Ticking bomb, cont.

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torture cont

Torture, Cont.

Spring 2013

ticking bomb cases
Ticking bomb cases
  • Suppose we know X planted a bomb that is about to explode and would kill many people
  • X is confessing, but not otherwise cooperating
  • no other ways of extracting information
ticking bomb cont
Ticking bomb, cont.
  • Interrogational torture (Shue) – end point available, verifiable
  • Different from terroristic torture
  • “Surely, we should be allowed to apply torture, contrary to the absolute prohibition of torture in human rights declarations and conventions”
pushing the argument
Pushing the argument
  • If argument is correct, we found an extreme case in which torture is justified
  • So torture is not in principle unjustifiable
  • Must decide on conditions when torture is justifiable – find suitable regulation
bad response
Bad Response

“Torture does not work”


If question is “Did Saddam Hussein collaborate with Osama bin Laden,” confessions under torture would be useless

  • Different if statements are readily verifiable – see Gaefgen/von Metzler case
another bad response
Another bad response

“Torture is not an overall wise strategy because it will make those who are angry already yet more angry”

different strategy
Different strategy

Assume there are justified cases of torture as stipulated by argument

Then explore whether this really says anything about regulation

two concerns
Two concerns
  • conditions under which torture seems clearly justified are very unusual
    • Do not lend themselves to regulation
  • process of regulating torture creates problems of its own
    • regulation might create more problems than it solves
reasoning by hypothetical
Reasoning by Hypothetical
  • Imagine strange scenarios to understand our reasons
  • abstract from factors that distract
  • Problem: hypotheticals might bear too little semblance to reality to be helpful in finding good regulations

Rarely will we be certain – if uncertain, may torture innocent people


Rarely will torture be essential: other techniques

alternative methods
Alternative Methods
  • Incentivized cooperation
  • Good cop/bad cop
  • Pushing emotional buttons
  • Pumping up the ego -- change of environment makes people susceptible to cooperation
heny shue torture
Heny Shue, Torture
  • “If the example is made sufficiently extraordinary, the conclusion that the torture is permissible is secure. But one cannot easily draw conclusions for ordinary cases from extraordinary ones. (…) Notice how unlike the circumstances of an actual choice about torture the philosopher’s example is. The proposed victim of our torture is not someone we suspect of planting the device: he IS the perpetrator. He is not some pitiful psychotic making one last play for attention: he DID plant the device. The wiring is not backwards, the mechanism is not jammed: the device WILL destroy the city if not deactivated. ” (p 141f)

So: granting that in ticking bomb cases torture is permissible (even required) does not imply that torture should be regulated

institutionalization creates problems
Institutionalization Creates Problems
  • If torture is legal, there would be torturers
  • unrealistic that such people could be instructed and supervised without torture being applied more widely than intended
  • “mission creep”

Exacerbating: people often have limited capacity to relate to another person’s pain, to understand “what torture is like”

from darius rejali torture s dark allure
From Darius Rejali, Torture’s Dark Allure

“Few things give a rush quite like having unlimited power over another human being. A sure sign the rush is coming is pasty saliva and a strange taste in one’s mouth, according to a French soldier attached to a torture unit in Algeria. That powerful rush can be seen on the faces of some of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib a rush that undoubtedly changed them forever. The history of slavery tells us that one can’t feel such a rush without being corrupted by it.”


“To think that professionalism is a guard against causing excessive pain is an illusion. Instead, torture induces a dynamic that breaks down professionalism. Milgram has shown that professionalism can serve to excuse ever more violent behavior.”

argument so far
Argument so far
  • have granted that there are cases of justified torture, but argued that these would be extreme cases
  • Moreover, regulation triggers problems of its own

Better not to regulate

In relevant cases applying torture may be like civil disobedience

relevance of kantian argument
Relevance of Kantian argument
  • There may be cases of justified torture, but if so, (a) these would be extreme cases that (b) do not lend themselves to regulation
  • Can support human right against being tortured, but not because there is absolute right never to be so treated