Is Torture Justifiable?

May 2, 2011 is a day where Americans can proudly announce “justice has been done”. It is also the last day of the existence of the master terrorist—Osama Bin Laden – who had hitherto created much fear and hatred. Since “9/11”, the most powerful country on the planet has embarked on an arduous fight against terrorism. Torture is an effective tool that can be exploited to extricate timely information from terrorists and hence has been crucial in the war against terrorism. The Bush government has long been criticized for the use of torture although they have never once admitted they did. The Obama administration banned several torturing techniques such as waterbed. Despite the strong public disdain of the use of torture, whether torturing terrorists is justifiable still remains debatable.

Firstly, torture is effective and quick in obtaining information. Terrorists without a strong faith or have not been specially trained will submit apace when tortured. This swiftness will be extremely helpful because intelligence information is only useful for a short period of time and this timely information can help to capture wanted terrorists, and prevent thousands or millions of deaths. For example, before the “9/11” attacks, the intelligence agents had information regarding Osama bin Laden’s plan, but they had nothing specific as to place and time. If they can acquire timely information through means of torture, thousands of lives as well as the billions of money in economic damage could have been saved. The positively significant impact of torture is glaringly obvious.

Furthermore, sometimes torture can be the only way to get hold of information from terrorists who possess a strong faith. If torture is not executed in such cases, many lives may be lost. Using this timely information, the capturing of wanted terrorists will also become much less exacting. Although the Obama administration has never publicly admitted it, many speculated that the use of torture allowed CIA to discover Bin Laden’s exact position and hence initiate the operation that killed this long hunted terrorist. The fact that it helps foil terrorism acts therefore keeps the wheels of torture techniques spinning.

On moral grounds it is right to do so too according to Utilitarianism which states that moral worth of an action is determined solely by its contribution to happiness or pleasure as summed among all people. A terrorist can cause severe damage to the society and the people. A terrorist attack can destroy lives, infrastructure and cause severe economic damage. For instance, the “9/11” attack had cost more than 3,000 lives and 20 billion US dollars. In Iraq, the average number of people who die from terrorist attacks every day is 700. If we can thwart the ensuing of these disasters through attaining timely information, the happiness created by saving thousands of people obviously outweighs the pain that the few terrorists have suffered during torture. Hence, this categorically dismisses the main criticism against torture that is torture is immoral and inhumane, leaving it as a viable way for the intelligence to stay one step ahead of the bad guys.

However, some may argue that there are effective and more humane methods other than torture such as mind control drugs, sleep deprivation, good‐cop‐bad‐cop techniques, and verbal intimidation to obtain information from terrorists. True, there are other methods that may be as effective as torture, but the fact that they are usually time‐consuming puts them down for the count. Intelligence information can only be useful for a limited amount of time and this lack of efficiency can cause disastrous consequences. If we use the more humane ways to get information, the information we obtain can be outdated. For example, if we only know about a terrorist attack after or right before it happens, it will be useless and many lives will already have been lost. The ability of torture in acquiring timely information post‐haste makes for effectiveness that other methods with all their titular benevolence have yet to match.

When one person’s right is weighed against the death of thousands, it is clear that however unacceptable and immoral torture may seem, it is necessary in order to protect thousands of innocent lives. For those who believe otherwise, I would like to ask one simple question‐‐ that if you are able to empathize with the pain that the terrorists underwent when they were tortured, why do you simply ignore the loss of innocent lives and the moments of heartbreak that the relatives of those who are killed by these terrorists suffered?

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