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This House believes that torture can be morally justifiable.

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  1. Imagine that a nuclear bomb has been planted in the middle of New York. You have arrested the bomber who is the only person who knows the disarm code. The bomb is set to go off in 30 minutes making evacuation impossible. Surely it is morally justifiable to torture one person to save the lives of millions?

  2. But does this mean you can do what you like to one person to save the life of a million people. This person has not been tried, let alone been found guilty. Do human rights go out of the window?

  3. Human rights are not sacred. In fact, all governments continually violate them. You can forfeit you right to liberty through stealing. No one sees anything wrong with a sniper killing a terrorist who is about to kill a hostage. Technically this man has done little wrong, so far, but has still forfeited his life, even in countries without the death penalty. Innocent people were killed during the bombing of Kosovo. They lost their right to life by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  4. Just to point out that torture is forbidden by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDOHR). [view the exact wording of article 5 below]

  5. The UDOHR also states that everyone is entitled to liberty but as comment 3 correctly states, you can lose this right. Why can you not lose the right not to be tortured as well? The question is really a balance of different human rights, something the UDOHR does not cover. Is someone's right not to be tortured outweighed by a million peoples right not to be killed? Yes!

  6. In response to comment 5: But where do you draw the line? How about the life of one person? Or how about a simple maiming, should you torture then? What about other human rights, should everyone's privacy be removed because it could save someone's life?

  7. I appreciate comment 6 and obviously it is a question of balance, but surely in such an extreme case as in comment 1, with one million lives at stake, the torture of one would-be-mass-murderer is justifiable.

  8. Is comment 7 really saying that the governments of the world should change their constitution to reject the UDOHR and include an article allowing them to torture?

  9. In response to comment 8: Yes I am. Do you not want them to as well? Imagine you are one of the people on the verge of being blown up in the situation from comment 1. Would you not want to give a government the right to torture the bomber for the disarm code. I know I would and in all honesty this is not a far-fetched situation, it is perfectly possible.

  10. What if the bomber refused to talk even under torture but would give in if he saw you torturing his wife? This would be torturing (illegal) an innocent person (doubly illegal) but would save millions of lives.

  11. During the bombing of Kosovo completely innocent people, in fact the ones we wanted to save, were killed, not deliberately but inevitably. Would it have made a difference, if it had been deliberate but still with an overall good result. This would be the same case as torturing the bomber's wife.

  12. Obviously if the wife agreed that it was for the common good and let herself be tortured that would be ok, the problem arises if she refuses to give permission to be tortured!

  13. Torturing an innocent person to save millions of lives (as suggested in comment 10) would be advocating Utilitarianism: the greatest good for the greatest number. Obviously it can be argued that torturing (or even killing) one innocent person is right if it saves the lives of millions of other innocent people. Indeed, there are many cases where people have willingly sacrificed their lives for others. However, voluntarily giving up your life is very different to being forced to as the latter may involve a breach of human rights. Every individual can have their own opinion on how important the rights of the individual are relative to benefits to society, but it is very difficult for a government to preach about human rights while simultaneously ignoring those of its own citizens in some cases. The cost of not being hypocritical could well be letting the bomb go off.

  14. This whole debate is really a conflict between the rights of the individual and the rights of society. An individual has the right to his personal safety and society has the right to put what's best for everyone ahead of one individual. Utilitarianism is one extreme; the rights of all above those of the individual in every case. The other extreme is championing the rights of the individual in every case. Saying which side is correct is difficult but we must not forget that "society" is simply a collection of individuals with their own rights.

  15. Both the extremes are wrong. The classic utilitarian objection is that after a viscous murder, an innocent person could be put to death, as the murderer, to allay the fears of the public. The happiness of the many placed ahead of the one. Believing in the other extreme, however, would prevent the sacrifice of any individual for a greater cause. The bombing of Belgrade, for instance, could not have taken place as innocent civilians were killed. The question is where to draw the line.

  16. Comment 14 makes a much better point than 13. Utilitarianism is nothing to do with the rights of anyone it is all about happiness. What creates the greatest total happiness is what should be done.

  17. By stating "you have arrested the bomber" that leaves no room for innocence. To what lengths will you go to stop the bomber from killing others? If he had a bomb in his hand and was threatening to throw it in the window, would you shoot him? If you would shoot to stop him...than I would think you would torture to stop a building bomber. If he is in the process of committing a criminal act, shouldn't you stop him with the best means possible?

  18. Comment 17 seems to be suggesting that governments can do anything to prevent a crime. There are several reasons why this should not be the case. People have a right to their privacy; no arbitrary bugging should be allowed. People have a right to their liberty; the likelihood that someone will commit a crime is not enough to have them imprisoned. All people, including criminals, have the right to humane treatment; "cruel and unusual" methods are as wrong in preventing crime as in punishing it. (Note: shooting a bomber is not cruel, torturing him is.)

  19. The right to humane treatment is a very important point. A good government should treat all human beings humanely all the time. If not why should they be treated humanely any of the time. Sticking to humane treatment must be a cornerstone of modern government even if it means sacrificing a million lives. If a government cannot say it treats people humanely it should not be in power.

  20. Comment 19 is wrong, it is impossible for a government to treat all human beings humanely all the time. Take the bombing of Kosovo; innocent civilians were killed being bombed by their own side. This is not humane treatment.

  21. Comment 19 is right. Although is sounds strange the only way to resolve this issue is to say that the bombing of Kosovo was humane. Humane treatment in this case must mean civilized treatment; kindness is of course not always possible. Although civilians did die unpleasantly they were treated in a civilized and not an arbitrary manner. Their deaths, though inevitable, were not deliberate; they were not the reason for the bombing. Also necessary for civilized treatment was the fact that the bombing was for the greater good. Speaking generally, civilized acts that involve the suffering of innocent people must be for the greater good. Deliberately inflicting small-scale suffering is still civilized (e.g. quarantining a town in the case of an outbreak of disease). Inflicting large-scale suffering on innocent peoples (e.g. bombing them) is only allowed if it is not deliberate (inevitable suffering is allowed). Uncivilized treatment would include any deliberate infliction of serious suffering and would thus include torturing the bomber or his wife.

  22. “All people, including criminals, have the right to humane treatment” Of course, but again there is a difference between a 'criminal" and a bomber who has put a bomb in a building and it is going to blow up 500 people in a few minutes. Is it humane treatment to allow 500 innocent people to die...or is it cruel and unusual treatment? Their bodies crushed and blown to pieces. Are they a part of the humane treatment equation? If you have a decision to make, and it must be made now, I would compromise the 'bomber's" life and save the men, women, and children in the building.

  23. What is the "difference between a "criminal" and a bomber who has put a bomb in a building and it is going to blow up 500 people in a few minutes"? As you agreed all humans deserve humane treatment. It is not humane, on the part of the bomber, to blow up people, but it is humane on the part of the government to let them be blown up if the only way of stopping him would be to torture him. Is there nothing you would not do to stop a would-be-bomber?

  24. I'd like to raise a new question. Can you morally torture in war? An enemy soldier is captured. He's likely to know the location of missile bases etc. Can you torture him to save the lives of your soldiers and civilians?

  25. I am actually for torture, but only in Military Investigations. When in a war situation, you can't just get information out of an enemy by asking "Pretty Please" You have to force it out somehow. There are many ways to use torture that are not exactly 'over the top' you can mentally torture someone to get information. Like many things, torture is alright, to a point, and must be used for interrogations only.

  26. What exactly is torture? Many people may be against inflicting physical pain, but how about mental/emotional pain. Does depriving someone of everything but the very minimum of food and water count as torture? What about placing someone in permanent darkness? What is/should be the limit?

  27. Torture is never morally justifiable - no matter what the circumstances or provocation. As soon as we begin violating the rights of the one - we may as well start violating the rights of the many.

  28. Protection of the "rights of many" is always more important than the "rights" of the few. Torture when judicially used may be the only practical solution in some cases.

  29. The above comment is far too general. If the minority, or individual, is in the right then they should be protected.

  30. Millions of deaths or the torture of one nutter. I'll go with torture. If you have "arrested the bomber", doesn't that mean he is guilty? Be careful of your wording commenter #1.

  31. My wording was no accident, yes he is guilty, but he still has rights. Most Western democracies do not have torture as a potential punishment even after a trail, let alone before one.

  32. Most Western democracies don't have execution either, but that doesn't stop them killing a hostage taker before his trail.

  33. Correct, there are no qualms about killing someone but what about torture. Is torture so degrading and cruel that it can never be used in any circumstance?

  34. The situation outlined here is too contrived to be the basis of meaningful debate. You might as well ask, "If Satan were captured, would it violate his Angelic Rights if he were tortured." A ridiculous question like, "What if the bomb was planted to test our respect for human rights, and the bomber had resolved to give the disarm code at the last minute ONLY IF he was not tortured?" would not be out of place in this discussion.

  35. The question in C34 is not out of place but only because it isn't ridiculous. And the situation is not so contrived. C24 gives a more realistic situation; how about torturing captured soldiers to give away military secrets that could then save our own soldiers?

  36. Does the thought occur to anyone that trying to torture vital information out of someone is just a ridiculous concept to begin with. Any sane person, I believe, will admit to anything, in order to escape torture, even if it isn't true.

  37. A debate on justifiable torture is valid, but not with the example in C1. Surely, the bomber would  just give a dummy code that when entered would blow up the bomb instantly. Better switch to the question in C 24/35 regarding the torture of soldiers. 

  38. I agree that it is justified to torture an individual in an imploring situation like [1], but how often do we, actually, come across such situations. As for torturing of individuals by the government to terminate crime, we must remember that the duty of government is not only to stop crime but to bring such individuals on the straight path and by no means torturing can help them do so.


Point of Information: Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Article 5:

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. 




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