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Thread: Moral dilemma - torture

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    International Captain Slow Love™'s Avatar
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    Moral dilemma - torture

    A man who has threatened to explode several bombs in crowded areas has been apprehended. Unfortunately, he has already planted the bombs and they are scheduled to go off TODAY. If this occurs, dozens of people will die. You have no other way of finding out this information quickly enough, but the authorities cannot make him divulge the location of the bombs by conventional methods. He refuses to say anything and requests a lawyer to protect his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. In exasperation, some high level official suggests torture - with no limit other than the person will not be killed, permanently disfigured or disabled.

    This would be illegal, of course, but the official thinks that it is nevertheless the right thing to do in this desperate situation. With the presumption (for the purpose of the hypothesis) that the torture will give you a 50% chance of saving the people, do you agree? If you do, would it also be morally justifiable to torture the bomber's innocent wife if that is the only way to make him talk? Why? (or why not?)
    Last edited by Slow Love™; 30-07-2005 at 02:26 AM.
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    International Captain Hoggy31's Avatar
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    You would have to torture him to reveal the information because many innocent lives are at risk
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    Cricket Web: All-Time Legend andyc's Avatar
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    ooohh that's a toughie.

    i do think that torturing the wife would be unnecessary, as she (possibly) would have nothing to do with it, although perhaps threatening to do so and bringing her into an interrogation room could make the bomber think she was being tortured.
    as for torturing the bomber, that's where i'm undecided. if they knew for sure, 100% that the bombs were planted and would go off, then, as a member of the public, i'd support torturing him. after all, if he has planted bombs, he is going to be punished anyway, admittedly not torture, but punished nonetheless. so i guess i'd condone the torturing, but apprehensively.
    good question, though!
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    Hall of Fame Member FaaipDeOiad's Avatar
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    No. The protections of basic human decency only have value if they cannot be broken under any circumstances. It is impossible to be certain that torture would gain anything, or even if the person that you've apprehended really knows where the bombs are. You cannot flagrantly violate someone's rights on the presumption that it might offer some sort of other benefit. Furthermore, the Fifth Amendment rights are there for a reason, and you can't simply ignore them because they frustrate a legitimate investigation, or they have no value at all.
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    Virat Kohli (c) Jono's Avatar
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    I'm with Faaip, you're setting a dangerous precedent which is likely to be abused quite often if you implement torture. You can't break laws at one's discretion whenever they feel their intention is right. Especially the authorities. The end doesn't justify the means IMO.
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    International Vice-Captain Dasa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FaaipDeOiad
    No. The protections of basic human decency only have value if they cannot be broken under any circumstances. It is impossible to be certain that torture would gain anything, or even if the person that you've apprehended really knows where the bombs are. You cannot flagrantly violate someone's rights on the presumption that it might offer some sort of other benefit. Furthermore, the Fifth Amendment rights are there for a reason, and you can't simply ignore them because they frustrate a legitimate investigation, or they have no value at all.
    Exactly. It'd be setting a dangerous precedent to use torture - in the short term it could save a few lives but in the long run the consequences could (or would) be negative.

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    C_C
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    I agree with Faaip here.
    Not only would it set an extremely dangerous precedent with far more potential for catastrophe, torture isnt garanteed all the time either..... for many times tortured ones just clam up and give up all hope and go '2 more weeks of this and i am dead anyways. so who cares'.

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    Hall of Fame Member FaaipDeOiad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by C_C
    I agree with Faaip here.
    Not only would it set an extremely dangerous precedent with far more potential for catastrophe, torture isnt garanteed all the time either..... for many times tortured ones just clam up and give up all hope and go '2 more weeks of this and i am dead anyways. so who cares'.
    That's another good point actually, even it doesn't necessarily impact on the moral elements of the question. People usually talk about the moral question of torture as an all-or-nothing proposition - being that if you torture someone you get what you want, and if you don't you won't, and the only question is whether or not it's right. I remember reading once though that when torture was used extensively in South American dictatorships in the 70s it was actually fairly ineffective as a method of getting lists of names to allow the police and military to crack down on anti-government organisations within their own borders, as quite a lot of the time it simply doesn't yield results. This is particularly true of course when people don't believe confessing will save their lives, as was usually the case if you lived in Pinochet's Chile or wherever.

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    International Captain Slow Love™'s Avatar
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    Oops, I just realised I buggered up the hypothesis slightly - where it says "with no limit other than the person will not be killed", it should also read "or permanently disfigured or disabled.".

    Not that it will necessarily change any answers so far.

    One more thing - try and keep in mind the conditions of the hypothesis - there's a 50% chance of saving the people, which must mean that the man knows where the bombs are. If he didn't, there'd be a 0% chance of saving the people by torturing the guy. So, basically, this boils down to a 50% chance of him telling you where they are, and whether you consider it morally justifiable to take that chance.

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    Maybe intimidation would work? Otheriwse just torture the *******
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    Hall of Fame Member FaaipDeOiad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Slow Love™
    One more thing - try and keep in mind the conditions of the hypothesis - there's a 50% chance of saving the people, which must mean that the man knows where the bombs are. If he didn't, there'd be a 0% chance of saving the people by torturing the guy. So, basically, this boils down to a 50% chance of him telling you where they are, and whether you consider it morally justifiable to take that chance.
    But how could you be certain that he did? I think it can be taken as a given in the hypothesis that he says he does, and that it's likely, but it's not certain. Either way my answer would still be the same, so I guess it doesn't matter.

  12. #12
    International Captain Slow Love™'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FaaipDeOiad
    But how could you be certain that he did? I think it can be taken as a given in the hypothesis that he says he does, and that it's likely, but it's not certain. Either way my answer would still be the same, so I guess it doesn't matter.
    It's just a condition of the hypothesis to restrict the question as much as possible to a moral dilemma, rather than debating the efficiency or reliablilty of torture as a method.

    Funnily enough, I was originally going to state as a condition of the example that there was a 100% chance of getting the needed information, but I got too worried that I'd get too many answers going the other way.

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    Eyes not spreadsheets marc71178's Avatar
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    Is it too late to evacuate the city then shoot him?
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  14. #14
    Hall of Fame Member FaaipDeOiad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by marc71178
    Is it too late to evacuate the city then shoot him?
    Isn't shooting him even worse than torturing him? Summary execution without trial certainly violates more laws than using torture as a method of interrogation.

  15. #15
    International Captain Slow Love™'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by marc71178
    Is it too late to evacuate the city then shoot him?
    LOL - what purpose does shooting him serve though? The bombs are already scheduled to go off, and they don't actually require manual detonation, or we wouldn't have a dilemma in the first place.

    As to evacuation, the hypothesis doesn't specify that all the bombs are within a single city.

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