26 April 2010
The Debate on Torture: Should It Be Permissible
The act of legalizing torture has been a debate amongst people for a long time. Most people feel discomfort imagining someone being tortured, whether under any circumstance, however, there are those who feel that torture can be beneficial to the government, in the most extreme cases, seeking information. For example, after the events of 9/11, where al Qaeda terrorists hijacked commercial airplanes and used as weapons of the Pentagon and World Trade Centers, the debate on whether or not “to torture captured terrorists to prevent civilian or military casualties has taken a great urgency.” Using torture, in this kind of extreme case, is what is being debated. However, does using in this kind of situation still make it justified and moral?
Torture can be defined in two ways: the narrow and the broad. In a broad sense, torture may be regarded as “a range of practices, physical or mental forms of interrogation, from minor humiliation all the way up to lethal coercion” (Lasser 1). Narrowly, however, tortured can be defined as, “inflicting unbearable and potentially lethal physical or psychological pain” (Lasser 1). With the debate on torture the narrow definition is the one most people refer to when discussing the morality and permissibility of the act.
Clinton Van Zandt, is a security consultant. In his essay, It Should Be Permissible to Torture Suspected Terrorists to Gather Information, Van Zandt is clearly for the permissibility, as noted also from his essay title. Van Zandt believes that the permissibility of torture should only be used under the scenario of the “ticking time bomb.” His essay quotes that a ticking time bomb scenario is, “a situation when a suspect is thought to have time-sensitive information affecting the lives of thousands—or even millions—of people” (758). Only when torture is in dire need, is when Van Zandt suggests the act of torturing. As a way to go about executing whether or not a situation calls for torture, Van Zandt believes that there should be a special court that is able to decide whether or not a “duress-interview warrant” (758) should be given if a situation calls for it. The courts would be the deciding factors on this form of punishment. He states, “there may come a time when our nation must quickly try to obtain information critical to the lives of millions of people from a person who refuses to talk” (758). He also goes on to suggest that, “there would be no appeal process and no public or media scrutiny. The authority of the court would be absolute” (758).
In response to Van Zandt’s essay, Vincent Iacopino, director of research for Physicians for Human Rights, shares his opposing argument on the matter. Iacopino believes that torture can never be justifiable, narrowly or broadly defined. In his essay, It Should Not Be Permissible to Torture Suspected Terrorists to Gather Information, Iacopino states, “Torture cannot be justified by any government, for any reason, despite recent reports of the U.S. officials and others attempting to justify such practices” (759). According to the U.N. the U.S. is required to prohibit torture and prosecute perpetrators who go against this law. Iacopino believes that the people that are advocating for the use of torture are arrogant and ignorant. He gives several points of the said “arrogance and ignorance.” He claims that using torture does not make a state safer or more secure and that the use of torture would spread even if it were only intended for the “ticking time bomb” (Zandt 758) scenarios. In his words Iacopino states, “Torture does not make any one person or society safer or more secure…Also, U.S. sanctioning of any form of torture will escalate its already widespread use” (760). Iacopino also describes Van Zandt’s “ticking time bomb” scenario as, “naive, abstract fantasies that serve no to assuage the moral conscience of...
Cited: Barnet, Sylvan, and Hugo Bedau, eds. Current Issues and Enduring Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking and Arguments with Readings. Eighth edition. New York: Belford/St. Martin’s, 2008.
Dershowitz, Alan M. “Yes, It Should Be ‘On the Books.’” Barnet and Bedau 806-08.
Heymann, Philip B. “ Torture should not be authorized.” Barnet and Bedau 804-05.
Iacopino, Vincent. “It should not be permissible to torture suspected terrorists to gather information.” Seventh, edition. Barnet and Bedau 759-60.
Krauthammer, Charles. “the truth about torture.” Barnet and Bedau 812-20.
Lasser, Fred. “In torture Permissible.” 1-5.
Levin, Michael. “The Case for Torture.” Barnet and Bedau 808-10.
Sullivan , Andrew. “The Abolition of Torture.” Barnet and Bedau 820-29.
Van Zandt. “It should be Permissible to Torture Suspected Terrorists to gather Information.” Seventh edition. Barnet and Bedau. 758-59.
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