The Ethics Of Torture Essay

1439 words - 6 pages

The institution of torture has been in existence for quite sometime; however, it was not always seen as an ethical question. In antiquity, the Romans employed something known as “the cat-of-nine-tails,” which was a flogging instrument with nine sharp ends. However, the use of torture was not confined to the West, the Chinese utilized “bamboo sticks to beat people.” During antiquity, torture was used as a punishment, but during the Spanish Inquisition, this notion of torture evolved to a means to extract withheld information. Today torture is unofficially used to extract information; however, it is officially illegal according to the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions. Nonetheless, the issue of legality and morality are different and separate issues; therefore, is the institution of torture ethical? In short, torture is not ethical in any circumstance. Actions, such as torture, cannot be broken down into specific situations in which one situation is ethical and another is not. The action is what matters in morality, not the consequence. In addition, torture fails the all three formulations of the Categorical Imperative.
Many people are hesitant of torture; however, state that torture is only acceptable under certain scenarios. Some hold that torture is morally permissible under certain distinct situations. For example, say Al Qaeda has installed a nuclear explosive in London, and set it to go off in a mere two hours. Thankfully, this cell of Al Qaeda has been flagged by law enforcement, and is under intense outside supervision. Law enforcement has a strong suspicion that a nuclear attack in about to happen. Therefore, they round up one of the members of the London cell, knowing that he has planned acts of terror in the past, and plan on interrogating him. However, if the suspect does not talk, the bomb will go off and a large part of the population of London will be destroyed, alongside the city itself. It just so happens that one member of the local law enforcement is skilled in using torture as an integration technique. Both the police and the skilled torture are certain that the suspect knows where the nuclear device is and that, by torturing him, they can prevent the death of many innocents. Some would say, like Henry Shue that in this instance that the suspect could be morally tortured regardless of the law. The important factors are that, the authorities had a strong suspicion of an attack, and they had a suspect in hand. The authorities were sure that the suspect knew where the bomb was, and that upon torture the suspect would relinquish the bomb’s location.
Henry Shue admits that this specific set of factors is very rare, and that torture should still be illegal. If the perfect situation presents it self, he argues, that there is a moral justification, if not a duty, to torture in order to prevent the loss of innocent life. Now, Shue qualifies what torture is by saying “the torture is purely...

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