A man has information that could prevent an imminent terrorist attack. Under normal interrogation he refuses to talk. Is torture an option?

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I hate the term terrorist.  It is completely worthless in the way it is commonly used.  




If it is proven that the man (or woman) has information that is related to the 'attack' - Then yes.  Here is why I believe so.  


The person has the right to speak.  In not speaking - You may only blame the person being tortured for inflicting torture upon themselves.  It's self infliction.  The torture will stop if they give the information.  It will not stop if they decide to withhold the information.  (If the practice is done humanely of course.) 


But if you aren't positive they have information ... I don't believe it's justified.  There is a chance that you have the wrong guy.  Or they really don't know anything.  


I believe a top level pain indicator should be established - If they go through so much torture without 'confessing' - they should be let off - for either having balls of steel - or being the wrong guy.  


I also don't think the torture should be anything of long term damage.  Or anything uncivilized.  (I know it sounds like an oxymoron.)  


But I remember seeing pictures of prisoners being forced to have sexual encounters with other prisoners - or told stories of prisoners being forced to eat their own feces. 


I say strict painful torture.  Pop off some fingernails.  Water board them.  Electrocute them.  Anything it takes.  


It should be a goal oriented procedure.  Not something for the sake of dehumanizing the individual for shits and giggles.  

Humane/civilized torture? Now I've heard everything... :)

By having the right to speak you also have the right to not speak. That person might've been threatened by the terrorist(s) that in case he would talk his family and/or himself would be history. Or he just isn't in the mood. :)

How do you prove that someone knows something? People have successfully cheated on polygraph tests before.

How do you establish an acceptable level of pain? Unless you torture yourself first you can't decide. And if it is an acceptable level of pain, maybe that's why the guy doesn't cave.

Do you say that anything that has a goal is acceptable? Murder too?


  • My children were starving so I popped a guy and took his money.
  • I think jews are to blame for everything that's wrong so I'll gas 'em.


This two situations have goals too. I might even say, very poetic goals. Providing for your children and saving the world from evil.

Talking about torturing just for fun, I have seen Standard Operating Procedure, a documentary about incidents of abuse and torture of (suspected) terrorists by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison.
Also, The Road To Guantanamo, which is part documentary, part drama...

I don't think people should have children if they can't support them.

In fact, I think the Government should impose an abortion if the person does not meet a certain standard of living , education level , etc. If the woman continues to get pregnant ... then have her tubes tied. But that's just me. I get a lot of negative feedback for this opinion. I mean - If the person REALLY wants to have a child - They should get some government loans and get an education - And do what it takes to get a nice job.

As for the Jews ... no. I think anyone of a sane mind can realize the 'reason' for the gassing is unsubstantiated.

If it can be 100% proven that they ARE in fact the reason 'everything' is wrong with the world .... yeah - gas 'em. But that would be impossible to prove. :)

A man has information that could prevent an imminent terrorist attack.


This man can be just an average Joe, not a terrorist. That's why I avoided mentioning anything about him except the fact that he might have that information.


Oh, yeah... Happy New Year to you too, Keely.

No, for multiple reasons.


One, I see the use of torture as an immoral act. The fact that the use of it may (may!) save lives does not magically convert it to a moral act. At most, it would be extenuating circumstances.


Two, information gained by the use of torture is notoriously unreliable. Victims are too likely to give their tormentor any answer that their believe will stop the torture, true or not. There is a reason that the police are not permitted to beat confessions out of suspected criminals any longer, and it is only partly due to improved civil rights.


Good point.  


But not even if it was Osama Bin Laden himself?  Or one of his right hand men?  


I don't know, Dave.  

Still no. Even though the probability of their guilt would increase (no guarantee that they are behind the event you are asking about, after all), the problem with inaccurate information still applies.


Any desire I'd have to harm Bin Laden would be purely out of an urge for revenge, and I'd like to think I'm better than that. Plus, it'd just make a martyr of him, he'd probably consider it a victory.

What if he might have information that could save your family/close friends and you would have to torture or to decide whether the guy should be tortured or not. What would you do/think then?

Part of the reason we have a rule of law is to guard against excesses caused by emotion and personal ties. Just because you may really, really want to do something does not mean that it is necessarily okay to do it.


If I were in such a situation, I admit that I might succumb to emotion. And I would be wrong to do so. Hopefully there would be someone else there to hold me back from the brink. My personal emotional anguish does not change the fact that torture is immoral. To put it very simply, torture is what the bad guys do.


I find it interesting that you are making you arguments based upon an appeal to emotion, but are not commenting on the fact that information obtained by torture is notoriously inaccurate.

Just to be clear, basically I think that torture is immoral, but I haven't given this topic a lot of thought until now and I am just trying to see what others think about this and I am pushing it a little bit further with my appeal to emotion just to have a more informed and solid opinion in the end. I am not defending torture! :)


And I wanted to see if, in the worst scenario possible, you would trade your loved ones for morality.


It is obvious that people under torture, at some point (that point varies from person to person), would admit anything (most of it might not even be true) just to make it all stop. So, yes, information obtained by torture is inaccurate. You said that already and I just didn't want to repeat it. That's all.

I didn't think that you were defending torture, I just thought it was interesting that when pushing for that limit, everyone I've talked with about this subject always goes for the 'But what if it was your family?!' emotional angle.


I have yet to see anyone go for a rational, unemotional argument on why torture might, under some circumstances, be acceptable.

If you torture one guy, you save a lot of people. If you don't torture the guy, those people die. You're just being realist by saying this. There is no emotion in this argument. You don't know those people that might be saved, and you don't know the guy that might be tortured. Actually, it's just math...


So, would it be moral to let dozens/hundreds/thousands/millions of people die? Shouldn't you do anything you can to save them?


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