Law School Discussion

Nine Years of Discussion
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Poll

If torture could spare the life of your mother/father/sibling/child, would you advocate it?

Yes
 7 (53.8%)
No
 4 (30.8%)
Cop Out Answer (Maybe)
 2 (15.4%)

Total Members Voted: 11

Author Topic: Honest Question on Torture  (Read 1154 times)

2Lacoste

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Honest Question on Torture
« on: July 28, 2006, 03:27:39 PM »
Read the following excerpts from Michael Levin's "Case for Torture."  Yes, Levin has some suspect work w/r/t race -- but I studied under him for years and found him with nary a biased thought in his head (just in his books).  Also, keep in mind that I'm not (nor is he) advocating torture here.  Just an interesting thought experiment.



Suppose a terrorist has hidden an atomic bomb on Manhattan Island which will detonate at noon on July 4 unless ... here follow the usual demands for money and release of his friends from jail. Suppose, further, that he is caught at 10 a.m on the fateful day, but preferring death to failure, won't disclose where the bomb is. What do we do? If we follow due process, wait for his lawyer, arraign him, millions of people will die. If the only way to save those lives is to subject the terrorist to the most excruciating possible pain, what grounds can there be for not doing so? I suggest there are none. In any case, I ask you to face the question with an open mind.

Torturing the terrorist is unconstitutional? Probably. But millions of lives surely outweigh constitutionality. Torture is barbaric? Mass murder is far more barbaric. Indeed, letting millions of innocents die in deference to one who flaunts his guilt is moral cowardice, an unwillingness to dirty one's hands. If you caught the terrorist, could you sleep nights knowing that millions died because you couldn't bring yourself to apply the electrodes?

Once you concede that torture is justified in extreme cases, you have admitted that the decision to use torture is a matter of balancing innocent lives against the means needed to save them. You must now face more realistic cases involving more modest numbers. Someone plants a bomb on a jumbo jet. I He alone can disarm it, and his demands cannot be met (or they can, we refuse to set a precedent by yielding to his threats). Surely we can, we must, do anything to the extortionist to save the passengers. How can we tell 300, or 100, or 10 people who never asked to be put in danger, "I'm sorry you'll have to die in agony, we just couldn't bring ourselves to . . . "

Here are the results of an informal poll about a third, hypothetical, case. Suppose a terrorist group kidnapped a newborn baby from a hospital. I asked four mothers if they would approve of torturing kidnappers if that were necessary to get their own newborns back. All said yes, the most "liberal" adding that she would like to administer it herself.

I am not advocating torture as punishment. Punishment is addressed to deeds irrevocably past. Rather, I am advocating torture as an acceptable measure for preventing future evils. So understood, it is far less objectionable than many extant punishments. Opponents of the death penalty, for example, are forever insisting that executing a murderer will not bring back his victim (as if the purpose of capital punishment were supposed to be resurrection, not deterrence or retribution). But torture, in the cases described, is intended not to bring anyone back but to keep innocents from being dispatched. The most powerful argument against using torture as a punishment or to secure confessions is that such practices disregard the rights of the individual. Well, if the individual is all that important, and he is, it is correspondingly important to protect the rights of individuals threatened by terrorists. If life is so valuable that it must never be taken, the lives of the innocents must be saved even at the price of hurting the one who endangers them.

Better precedents for torture are assassination and pre-emptive attack. No Allied leader would have flinched at assassinating Hitler, had that been possible. (The Allies did assassinate Heydrich.) Americans would be angered to learn that Roosevelt could have had Hitler killed in 1943, thereby shortening the war and saving millions of lives, but refused on moral grounds. Similarly, if nation A learns that nation B is about to launch an unprovoked attack, A has a right to save itself by destroying B's military capability first. In the same way, if the police can by torture save those who would otherwise die at the hands of kidnappers or terrorists, they must.

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BrerAnansi

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Re: Honest Question on Torture
« Reply #1 on: July 28, 2006, 03:46:06 PM »
I see where you're going with this and I'd have to say yes, in those cases torture is justified...but by constructing your argument in this way...we prefer to torture rather than to negotiate..you've left yourself open to critique...such an argument is as best morally perverse and given that what you're discussing here is balancing the greater good...such an objection would be a valid one..

Edit: I'm sure BP and MD will be along shortly to give a more substantive response...
Grrr...

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2Lacoste

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Re: Honest Question on Torture
« Reply #2 on: July 28, 2006, 03:50:04 PM »
I think the thought experiment assumes negotiation will produce no results.
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BrerAnansi

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Re: Honest Question on Torture
« Reply #3 on: July 28, 2006, 03:56:02 PM »
<<<Someone plants a bomb on a jumbo jet. I He alone can disarm it, and his demands cannot be met (or they can, we refuse to set a precedent by yielding to his threats).>>>

So why the need for what's in brackets???
Grrr...

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If there aren't any arguments against my claims, then I'll depart gracefully. Feel free to continue the concordant attack on my character, it's funny.

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faith2005

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Re: Honest Question on Torture
« Reply #4 on: July 28, 2006, 04:14:00 PM »
I don't know anything about Michael Levin so I'm not biased against him. but if you say that his books are biased, but in person he's not, I'm going to have to say thats suspect. Someone can have racist beliefs and still be personable on a one-on-one basis.

but back to the hypo--I wouldn't approve it. I'd rather meet his demands, b/c then you're semi-guaranteed to get results if you're 100% positive that its the right person. torture means that he could admit to anything under pressure or say something in just enough time for it to happen in all of those hypos. Say they start electric shock treatment and by the fifth hour he finally agrees to disarm the bomb but it takes him 5 hours to do so? and in the process the plane blows up?

And in relation to the issue he's probably getting at--i.e. 9-11 and all the people in Guantanamo Bay--there is no real reason to think that all of those people were involved. Furthermore, if most people confess under torture--even innocent people--then it seems to be just as unreliable as anything else. So, we just end up having tortured a bunch of innocent (or not so innocent, but still not who we're looking for) people, lost moral superiority and gained nothing in the process. many times bull headed white men want to say they can't negotiate because they don't want to--not b/c they can't. and usually tied up in that is a sense of moral superiority and/or that mentality of not speaking to "savages." bullheaded superiority complexes kill innocent people too imo.

2Lacoste

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Re: Honest Question on Torture
« Reply #5 on: July 28, 2006, 04:46:29 PM »
This article was written years before 9/11.

As to the case of giving in to his demands: you have no guarantee that he will disarm the bomb if he gets what he wants (what incentive does he have?).  If you think you can force him to disarm through certain types of techniques, I think it's worth it.

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bijou

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Re: Honest Question on Torture
« Reply #6 on: July 28, 2006, 04:47:19 PM »
<<<Someone plants a bomb on a jumbo jet. I He alone can disarm it, and his demands cannot be met (or they can, we refuse to set a precedent by yielding to his threats).>>>

So why the need for what's in brackets???

Lol. I haven't heard someone refer to them as "brackets" for such a long time...

LeveragedSellout

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Re: Honest Question on Torture
« Reply #7 on: July 31, 2006, 01:55:17 PM »
He is wrong to say that the Allies would have killed Hitler given an opprotunity because, in reality, the British could have killed him at any time. They didn't because he was stupid, and they feared that a smarter, more ruthless guy could have succeeded him. Furthermore, his assertion that simply killing adolf would have saved millions of lives can't be proven.

Young Esq.

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Re: Honest Question on Torture
« Reply #8 on: July 31, 2006, 02:38:46 PM »
Has anyone read the article on torture in the latest edition of esquire magazine?  I was so that the officers at Abu Graive were giving up their soldiers. I thought an officer was supposed to have more integrity than that.  The article states the orders were given from the white house and then they denied giving the orders.  This is why Cpt. Ian Fishback came forward. It was so interesting.  I fell that if you give an order you need to stand by it and not scapegoat soldiers who were just following orders. 

_BP_

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Re: Honest Question on Torture
« Reply #9 on: July 31, 2006, 03:59:24 PM »
Has anyone read the article on torture in the latest edition of esquire magazine?  I was so that the officers at Abu Graive were giving up their soldiers. I thought an officer was supposed to have more integrity than that.  The article states the orders were given from the white house and then they denied giving the orders.  This is why Cpt. Ian Fishback came forward. It was so interesting.  I fell that if you give an order you need to stand by it and not scapegoat soldiers who were just following orders. 

http://www.esquire.com/features/articles/2006/060706_mfe_August_06_Conscience_1.html

It was an interesting article Young.  It illustrates the potency of mixing intelligence, power, and moral bankruptcy.  Those lawyers had a way of justifying and green-lighting everything.  I seriously fear for some of the cats on this board.
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