Posts Tagged ‘war on terror’

Torture

June 10, 2008

UPDATE: I have my report here.

OUTLAWED: Extraordinary Rendition

In my history class we just did a project on a current issue, which we got to chose. I did mine on torture because it’s a really important issue to me. I finally finished my report, and it was actually going over the page limit so I had to cut some of what I was planning to write such as everything about the Military Commissions Act, habeas corpus, problems with trials and the lack of them…

Most of my report focused on Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and extraordinary rendition, with facts and specific examples of people who were tortured, such as Hamid Al-Ghizzawi and Binyam Mohamed, shown in this video (which I’m using in my powerpoint).

Towards the end of my report I talked about the legality of torture and the torture memos, and finally the debate on the morality of torture. Personally I don’t think that torture is or can be justified, but I talked about some of the arguments that people use in favor of torture.

In Torture: When the Unthinkable is Morally Permissible, Mirko Bagaric and Julie Clark do argue for the morality of torture by calculating costs and benefits. They even have an equation for it: (W x L x P) / (T x O); where W = whether the agent is the wrongdoer; L = the number of lives that will be lost if the information is not provided; P = the probability that the agent has the relevant knowledge; T = the time available before the disaster will occur; O = the likelihood that other inquires will forestall the risk. They claim that “torture should be permitted where the application of the variables exceeds the threshold level.”
There are numerous problems with this idea. For one thing, although Bagaric and Clark admit that the formula is hardly exact and insist that this is not an argument against the proposal, not only is it inexact but most of the variables are simply unknowable. In most cases, it would be impossible to know whether the agent is the wrongdoer or the probability that the agent has relevant knowledge. In most cases it is impossible to even know that a disaster is going to occur, much less the time until it happens. Nor does the formula take into account the likelihood that torture will succeed. After all, even if the agent is definitely a wrongdoer with relevant knowledge about a disaster that will kill millions and is going to occur any minute, if torture will not be effective, clearly it is pointless. And who would use the equation? Would we really trust the government not only to know these virtually unknowable variables, but also to make the decision to apply them?
Additionally, the formula does not and cannot take into account the effects of using torture- not only on the victim, but also on the torturer and the entire society that condones it. Maybe if we were robots the proposal would be a good idea, but as humans, we cannot coldly calculate the morality of torture.

To me, this was one of the most disturbing things I found in all the research I did for this project, or for any of the other papers I’ve done on torture. The idea of using an equation to calculate whether torture is justified is chilling to me.

Advertisements