Thursday, January 18, 2007

How to torture

The trouble with torture is that we so rarely torture those who need torturing. When a state adopts torture, it ends up torturing political prisoners and people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thus, quite rightly, most states have banned torture.

However, were torture a necessity, as it may very well be with the dawning of nuclear terrorism, the impetus to permit torture will be overwhelmingly great. Therefore, one must regulate torture, disquieting as it is.

I believe I have the solution. It is derived from my solution to the freshman ethics question about lying to the Nazis. My solution was that lying to the Nazis was wrong, but that failing to lie to the Nazis, and thereby putting innocents in danger of liquidation, was more wrong. Using this, torture is wrong, but failing to torture in such circumstances would be more wrong. Therefore, when torture is committed, it should be treated as a crime, and placed before the courts. Thus a detainee who dies as the result of mistreatment would be counted as voluntary manslaughter, and the torturer would be punished accordingly. However, the torturer would also be able to plead that more good came of the torture than the harm inflicted. If the court agrees that, for example, by torturing one man we saved the lives of a planeload of passengers, the torturer would be exonerated.

In short, what this proposal would do is put the torturer's neck on the line. The techniques they use would be carefully selected based on the probability of success and the danger posed. There's nothing like facing prison to clarify the mind about who should, and should not, be tortured.

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