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Deontology and Utilitarianism in Regards to Torture, Essay Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1720

Essay

Torture has been condemned throughout the world as barbaric and regressive human behavior which deprives victims of choice and immunity from harm at the hands of captors. There are a number of arguments both for and against the use of torture as a means of interrogation and extracting information from non-combatants. This paper will discuss the deontological view and utilitarian view for and against the prohibition. Ultimately the choice will be up to the actor. This paper holds that it torture is philosophically and logically an illegitimate implement in the political toolbox.

A torturer takes control of his victim’s body (and mind in some cases) with practices such as searing the skin with hot irons, burning at the stake, electro-shock, genital mutilation, beatings, hanging, thumbscrews, non anesthetic dentistry, crouching for long periods, water boarding, and food, water, or sleep deprivation. Most will cause extreme discomfort for the victim and all include pain. They are intentionally harmful and arespecifically non-consensualagainst a defenseless person. A generalized, though by no means final definition is that torture intentionally inflicts extreme physical and/or mental suffering on a non-consenting, defenseless person. Torture however is not coercion, a medical procedure such as circumcision that is considered painful, not corporal punishment, nor is it ordeals such as immersing the hand in boiling oil.

Deontology comes from theGreek deon, meaningobligatoryand is the view making duty fundamental in moral thought.Deontologists areoften contrasted with utilitarians whoregard actionspossessing obligations which derive from the goodin the resultthat the action achieves.

Utilitarianism’s basic premise was laid down by Jeremy Bentham and formalized later by John Mill.The classic and basic definition of utilitarianism says the principleof utility approves or disapproves actionswhatsoever, according to the tendencyto augment ordiminish happiness of the party whoseinterest is in question.  If that party is acommunity, then the happiness of the community is considered as a whole. There are several types of utilitarianism-notably rule and act. One looks at the obligatory actions of individualswhile the other considers the action’sconsequencesand the good that is achieved. Actions are defined by their contribution tothe increase of happiness and decrease in human unhappiness.

Can torture ever be justified for example in times of war or when terrorists for instance use innocents to further their cause? The world was a reluctant victim and witness to this in Iraq with the beheading of Wall Street Journalist, Daniel Pearle but he is by no means an isolated case. The use of beheadings is in and of itself a torture to be sure for the non-consenting victim but its impact on those who see it is incalculable. This is what transpired during the 1980’s and 90’s in Algeria with the torture of non-combatants by the Groupe Armee Islamic-the GIA. The GIA terrorized the countryside to force the government, whom they deemed illegitimate, to hold new elections. They did this using torture. There are many recorded instances of whole villages being annihilated to gain support from the populace through fear.

What if on one occasion they kidnapped an employee of an international corporation engaged in oil extraction so precious to the economy, in the southern oilfields in the Sahara?Let us further assume that they threatened to execute the European engineer unless the company applied pressure on the government to hold elections. Suppose further that the company refused to bend to blackmail and the armed group carried out its threat. How they might do this is by beheading the engineer. However, they do not stop here. They package the skull in two FedEx boxes-one containing the skull they deliver it to the company in Algiers and the other with the ears and eyes they send to the corporate headquarters in Paris. It seems almost palatable to conclude that anyone who has knowledge of the whereabouts of the perpetrators of such anactshould be apprehendedand any informationextracted from them regardless of the means. The basic premise here is that acceptable rules of engagement have been discarded.

Further, what if the authorities gained knowledge of a bomb that was placed in an elementary school, of which there are more than eight hundred schools in the city. The bomb is set to detonate in the next sixty minutes unless certain demands are met by the terrorist gang. One of their members has been captured some weeks earlier. Authorities are almost certain that he knows which school contains the bomb. When asked to help, he declines on the grounds that he is a soldier and invokes the terms of the Geneva Accord for enemy combatants, seeking immunity from torture and provides the basic information of captured soldiers, namely his name, rank, and serial number. Officials are near certain that unless he talks, they will not be able to evacuate the hundreds of schools and students in time and several hundred are sure to perish in the carnage. Further, the police argue that if they were to see this man under normal conditions running into a school clutching a bomb, they would shoot to kill on sight. Therefore, like the terrorists in the desert, it seems altogether acceptable to torture this individual so as to gain the information, and thus save the lives of hundreds of innocent schoolchildren and teachers.

The notion of acting to save others, either in the oil field or the schoolyard is the jurisdiction of the utilitarian. It is also the premise of the Bush Doctrine as evidenced at Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay. The Bush Doctrine essentially claims that there is a bomb and whether in the school, the battlefield, or potentially at home, we are at war with terrorism. Therefore they argue, somewhere, whether New York or New Delhi, American interests are potential terrorist targets. To prevent innocent non-combatant deaths we (the claim goes) are morally justified in the use of torture to extract that vital information by use of torture from those whom we perceive as terrorists and thus the enemy. This is in spite of our signatureson the Geneva Accord and Lincoln’s words that military necessity does permit cruelty.

The argument is rule-utilitarian which makes like minded actions acceptable whose adherents advocate for the greater good by adopting rules that prohibit specific actions such as torture. Yet history has shown thattorture causes harm and as noted above, like minded individuals acting on a principle of reciprocity means that we all benefit from a rule prohibiting others from potentially torturing us at some time in the future. But, if an enemy can be tortured for information, then are not our own soldiers liable to the same punishment to preserve enemy lives? Their argument turns on the notion that the greater good is accrues from sustaining a prohibition on torture

The utilitarian notion of torture as seen above is that in order to save the lives of many, the life of one seems inconsequential given the global implications. Saving hundreds of lives in a school, or even thousands in a burning building for the sake of torturing one individual seems acceptable. This seems to beg the question however of why should the forces of evil not adopt a similar policy of disrespecting the premiselaid down by deontologists that humans should not be an end in themselves? If there is a lack of respect by one side in a dispute for the sanctity of life of the other, does this not send the message that the other side is by our actions, encouraged to torture to gain information? In other words, if all nations took the initiative to act in this fashion, it seems only logical to conclude that if a world class leader acts as role model to the world and openly espouses the use of torture as a viable weapon in their arsenal then it seems no less logical to conclude that other nations will follow suit.This is a deontological argument saying torturous acts are unjustified because they violate the basic principles of humanity. It offends most rights we innately possess as a human. No human right is categorically free of intervention absolutely but the right not to be tortured for example is a foreclosure for others acting in certain ways against us.

In Homer’s Iliad, the two protagonists and combatants, Achilles and Hector meet near the end of the poem where they confront each other outside the walls of Troy. Hector makes the case for humanity when he suggests to the demi-god Achilles that whosoever is vanquished should hope for fair treatment by the victor. Achilles does not subscribe to such a request and when he slays his opponent in front of the Trojans and Hector’s father, he binds Hector’s lifeless body to his chariot and encircles his enemies’ camp several times, humiliating the dead Hector and torturing his father, the Trojan king, Priam. That was nearly twenty-eight hundred years ago. Clearly leaders cannot claim to be gods, if their actions mirror Achilles.

It therefore seems clear morally thattorture is wrong because it harms non-consenting non-combatants. Further, politicians rarely come out in defense of the use of torture, George Bush and Dick Chaney notwithstanding. However, though few publicly advocate its use, many states are prepared to use it as a matter of course. Thus the paradoxical situation arises when a country such as the United States engages in torture as noted in Abu Gharib for example, but finds it necessary to condemn its use publicly in such countries as Syria but which is one of the countries the US has sent terror suspects to for interrogation outside the United States. Thedivision between morality and behavior makes the case for immunity weaker than the moral consensus surrounding it seems to implywhich is precisely theweakness most exploited by terrorists,who use violence against non-combatants to further their political aims.

Works Cited

Bagaric, Mirko and Clarke, Julie. Torture: when the unthinkable is morally permissible. (2007). Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. UK

Greenberg, Karen J. The torture debate in America. (2006). Cambridge University Press. New

Greenberg, Karen; Dratel, Joshua. The Torture Papers: the road to AbuGhraib. (2005). International Security. (2009). Routledge. New York, New York.

Lang, Anthony; Beattie, Amanda Russell. War, Torture and Terrorism: Rethinking the Rules of Pallgrave MacMillan. New York, New York.

Sands, Phillipe. Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values. (2008)

Scarre, Geoffrey. Utilitarianism. (1996). Routledge. London. UK. State University of New York Press. Albany. New York.

Stritzke, Werner; Lewandowsky, Stephan; Denemark, David; Clare, Joseph. Terrorism and Torture:An Interdisciplinary Perspective. (2009). Cambridge University Press. New York, New York.

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