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The Ethics of Torture Essay


In the wake of terrorism and other unpredictable security threats, some security agents today employ unconventional tactics to prevent and mitigate crime. Indeed, since the proliferation of terrorism threats, security agents have intensified their quest to employ unconventional tactics to neutralize crime. One such unconventional approach is torture. To gain a comprehensive understanding of torture, it is vital to incorporate Levinson (1625) analysis of torture when he says torture involves deliberate physical harm to get information from somebody, or to influence a person’s action.

Throughout history, different governments have allowed torture. Indeed, in the past, torture was widely condoned by society. However, in the 21st century, international law bars this act (Doebbler, 100). The international community adopted this position because torture contravenes human rights (torture contravenes Article five of the United Nation’s declaration of human rights) (Doebbler 100).

From this background, more than 147 states around the world ratified the U.N resolution to ban torture (under the UN Convention against Torture). Moreover, many local jurisdictions have introduced new legislations that aim to ban the practice as well. Nonetheless, the international declaration against torture only represents one side of the torture debate because several people also hold opposing views.

For example, Ginbar (2) says torture may be justifiable if it saves the lives of other people. For example, Ginbar (3) asks, if a terrorist holds some people hostage and exposes them to danger, would it not be justifiable to torture an associate terrorist who refuses to cooperate with the authorities, to save the endangered lives of the hostages? Similarly, Ginbar (5) asks if it is fair for government authorities to refrain from torturing criminals who would not hesitate to torture their soldiers if they had the opportunity to do so. The torture debate exposes serious ethical and moral dilemmas.

Security agents have often employed different forms of torture, including punishment, revenge, coercion, and other torturous acts. Usually, people who torture their victims do so, without the intention to cause fatal harm. Nevertheless, since torture has yielded both positive and negative results, there has been a huge debate regarding if it is a justifiable practice, or not. This paper comprehensively analyzes the torture debate by investigating both sides of the argument. However, after considering the implications of introducing a torture policy, and the moral and ethical implications of doing the same, this paper suggests that torture is unjustifiable.

Poor Results from Torture

Proponents of torture say torture victims are bound to talk, eventually. However, contrary to such assertions, history shows that when torture was legal, minimal positive results occurred. For example, Rejali (2) claims that between 1500 and 1750, the French tortured more than 700 detainees, but little results occurred from the process (despite the legality of torture at the time). The records show that positive results reflected a paltry 3% to 14% of the total torturous acts (Rejali 2).

Moreover, often, it was difficult for authorities to obtain any statement from the prisoners at all — results from the French torture process mirror similar results obtained in Japan. Japan claims torture was among the clumsiest interrogation processes ever adopted in their country (Rejali 4). From this evidence, torture does not yield positive results (even when the government allows it).


The perceptions that torture is justifiable gained root in America’s Hollywood industry because the movie industry consistently depicted torture as a justifiable way of getting information from terrorists. This trend is gaining root as politicians continue to increase their support regarding the acceptance of torture as a countermeasure for fighting terrorists.

Despite the existence of these views, Sydhoff (2) claims that torture is not justifiable because television shows justifying torture are trying to shift our understanding of right and wrong. While doing so, people who support torturous acts dehumanize their victims by pretending to protect national interests. From the possibilities that torture dehumanizes its victims, Sydhoff (3) claims torture opens new opportunities to shift our moral compass of what is right and wrong.

Naturally, people are supposed to treat one another like that, and no matter the reason, everyone should not be denied their human right to live (BBC 2). Therefore, the dehumanization of a torture victim opposes our human nature and the principles of human rights (Ginbar 114). Comprehensively, through these shortcomings, this paper depicts torture as a threat to humanity and a morally unjustifiable practice.

Who Decides?

There are different types of crimes committed under international and domestic laws. Usually, the law determines what type of punishment criminals deserve when they commit offenses (Ginbar 114). However, since torture is an unconventional way of justice, it is difficult to establish the criterion for torturing victims (Lee 239). Since torture is an unconventional way of seeking justice, serious questions like, who determines what type of crime is worthy of torture, emerge. It is also difficult to establish which stage of torture is acceptable for a specific crime, and who even determines that in the first place?

Indeed, around the world, morality varies because different societies have different standards for what is right and wrong. From the lack of proper standards regarding the dispensation of justice, it is, therefore, unsurprising if people have different measures for allowing torture. It is also impractical for societies to accept torture because there would be many variables characterizing its implementation, such that, that it would no longer make sense to uphold the practice at all.

Instead, there are better and more practical ways of seeking justice or even getting information from people. Torture only distracts natural justice because it is highly possible for people to bridge the gap between whatever information they have, and what the torturers expect (Lee 239). From the different sets of morals characterizing different societies, it becomes extremely difficult to accept torture as a morally justifiable act.

Implications of Implementing Torture Policies

The acceptance of torture opens the opportunity for further acts of torture to gain root in society. Sydhoff (1) affirms this assertion when he says that the acceptance of torture is a “slippery slope” because every act of torture prepares the society to accept similar acts in the future. Not only does torture make way for the acceptance of torture in the society, but it also gives way for other barbaric acts to penetrate the society (Ginbar 114). Stated differently, the acceptance of torture may similarly justify other human right abuses like extra judicial killings, and other acts of dictatorial nature.

This fear informs the criticism leveled against the U.S government for using torture as a way to fight terrorism. Rejali (1) says that the CIA has used torture in the past to fight terrorism. Rejali (1) also gives evidence of Americans torturing a terror suspect named Abu Zubaida (by the CIA) as evidence of the unconventional way the American government retrieves information from terror suspects.

Considering America is a model for the upheaval of human rights, its use of torture opens opportunities for other countries to use torture as well. Therefore, the acceptance of torture is indeed a “slippery slope” because it allows different societies to use torture, and nobody knows the implications for such widespread use of torture (Ginbar 114). Therefore, there is a growing fear that this trend may lead to the death of civilization, at least in the judicial process (Ginbar 114).


For many centuries, governments used torture to interrogate suspects. Albeit this act decreased during the 21st century, the rise of the war against terror has awakened the debate regarding the use of torture to interrogate suspects. This paper shows that even though torture may seem broadly justifiable in the short run, it is morally unjustifiable in the end. Indeed, the acceptance of torture poses serious moral questions like, who decides what type of offense requires torture, and what degree of torture is acceptable. To this extent, torture is impractical to accept.

Moreover, this paper shows that torture is an inhuman act, and nobody has the right to inflict bodily harm on others or kill others in the name of torture. Coupled with the poor results witnessed from torture (in the past), these reasons show that the acceptance of torture is a “slippery slope” for the global community. People should, therefore, oppose torture at all costs.

Works Cited

BBC 2012, 2012.

Doebbler, Curtis. International Human Rights Law: Cases and Materials, New York: CD Publishing, 2004. Print.

Ginbar, Yuval. Why Not Torture Terrorists?:Moral, Practical and Legal Aspects of the “Ticking Bomb” Justification for Torture: Moral, Practical and Legal Aspects of the “Ticking Bomb” Justification for Torture, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

Lee, Steven. Intervention, Terrorism, and Torture: Contemporary Challenges to Just War Theory, New York: Springer, 2007. Print.

Levinson, David. Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment, London: SAGE, 2002. Print.

Rejali, Darius 2007, 5 Myths about Torture and Truth. 2012.

Sydhoff, Brita. . 2012.

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