Why I don't believe in Torture

The flawed assumptions about why torture works.

This is a rather hillarious heading, because who in their right mind believes in torture. Most people will say “I support human rights”. But then there are those who come with a big BUT. But there are of course those exceptional cases they say where an attack is imminent and we could tward the terrorists from killing thousands. This might of course also question how valuable is really human rights which only extends to those you love or deem good people, while nasty people don’t get it. It is much like free speech. If you argue free speech should only be allowed to those who don’t say nasty things, then it isn’t free speech.

Anyway the two common assumptions proponents of torture of terrorists indulge in is:

  1. That you are always able to tell whether the terrorist is telling the truth or not.
  2. That you know that you got the right guy.

In a realistic scenario you don’t know who knows what. Say you got 10 terror suspects and one of them knows where the next attack is going to be. You don’t know who knows however and when you ask each of them, they all refuse to tell you. So you decide to torture every one of them to force them to talk. Now everyone of them wants to get away from the pain so they say whatever they think you want to hear. 9 of them has to invent something, because there is only 1 who actually knows. Problem is that now you have 10 different answers to your question.

So the problem is that even if we assumed torture made people tell the truth if they know it, it wont help because the whole torture approach is producing so many false answers that you can’t tell when you got the right answer.

Then there is silly assumption that the authorities can really know for sure whether they got the right person or not. As the Senate Committee’s Report on CIA’s use of torture details, one often apperhended innocents. In fact 20% of those detained did not even meet CIA’s own criteria for being detained.

A great example of this is “Guildford Four and Maguire Seven” who were convicted of the Guildford pub bombings of 5 October 1974. This later formed the basis of the famous movie “In the name of my father”.

Convictions based on the use of torture. They were not released until 1991, when it was uncovered how the police had manipulated evidence and tortured the suspects into confessions. No doubt the police thought they had the right guys. When it started becoming clear they were wrong they covered up. That is third problem with torture. If one ever makes a mistake in torture, authorities will attempt to cover up the truth because the truth will be too much of an embarrasment. Just like the catholic chrurch has covered up their abuses because what could be more embarrassing that the guardians of moral displaying imoral.


So in short I believe torture is wrong because when we torture we create a lot of false positives which hides the actual truth. Secondly because the principle of innocence exists not to be nice to bad guys but because it is very hard to know whether you got the right guy. That is why we have courts, to determine innocence. It stands to reasons that the graver the accusation the stronger the legal protection should be as the moral cost of wrongefully convicting someone of mass murder or terrorism is very high. Sadly many seem to conclude opposite. The more terrible the accusation you are subject to the less legal protection you deserve. With this form of logic, going over the speed limit on the highway should give someone the strongest legal defence.

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