The morality of torture: An Osama bin Laden scenario

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Torture Osama to save lives?

Yes, torture him
26
67%
No, dont torture him
13
33%
 
Total votes: 39

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The morality of torture: An Osama bin Laden scenario

Postby Predator » 2004-05-16 06:59am

Just interested, since it relates to a discussion I'm engaged in right now, what people's thoughts are on the following. Let me explain the situation.

Firstly, it is assumed torture works. It may very well not work - that debate is not what this thread is about. For the purposes of considering this situation, assume that it does work, and that it's the best/only method of extracting the required information.

The situation is this: Osama bin Laden has been caught, and all evidence suggests that just before he was caught he organised a plot that will result in a large number of deaths -say, 300, if we need a number. The only way to save them is by foiling the plot, and the only way of foiling the plot is to get information from Osama - information he will not give willingly.

Obviously, torturing him would be illegal, the question though is a moral one - what is the morally right course of action.

The question is simple: Given the above circumstances should Osama be tortured to extract the information, or should the plot be allowed to succeed?
"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger." Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

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Postby Keevan_Colton » 2004-05-16 07:07am

I notice you have to hang a lot of conditions on this to make the scenario work, it's impossibly loaded now.

IF you know for certain this WILL work, that it WILL save lives and that it is the ONLY way of doing so, would you do it?

Lets try this same scenario only a little different...lets say, there's an orphanage, and if you kill all the orpahns inside by dipping them into, say, acid if you need a method....and you know that this WILL cure cancer and world hunger would you do it?

Now, what if it MIGHT cure world hunger and cancer?

Osama is a shithead, no doubt about it, but abandoning the moral highground you cannot get it back, and the conditions applied here are complete nonsense.
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Postby Predator » 2004-05-16 07:15am

I notice you have to hang a lot of conditions on this to make the scenario work, it's impossibly loaded now.


It's really just a fancy "Do the ends justify the means", specific to torture. I suppose I might have said "and there's only a 30% probability the torture will work" or something similar, but that merely needlessly complicates the scenario.

If you dont like the question, dont vote.
"Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger." Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

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Postby Keevan_Colton » 2004-05-16 07:18am

PredatorX wrote:
I notice you have to hang a lot of conditions on this to make the scenario work, it's impossibly loaded now.


It's really just a fancy "Do the ends justify the means", specific to torture. I suppose I might have said "and there's only a 30% probability the torture will work" or something similar, but that merely needlessly complicates the scenario.

If you dont like the question, dont vote.


I know, however, the ends do not justify the means in a moral scenario.
If the ends can justify the means, torturing and experimenting on orphans and killing them to find a cure for cancer is morally justifiable.

You've got a hardon for torture being a valid approach for something, despite the fact all evidence shows that people will confess ANYTHING under torture, and by anything I do not mean what they have done, I mean that they are Napoleon or the Julius Ceaser. You can cram this bullshit scenario up your ass alongside the crap you've been spouting in N&P.
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Postby Spyder » 2004-05-16 07:25am

Well, torture's never a good thing, there are basic human rights and the geneva convention and all that but if torturing one Al Qaeda leader saves 300 lives then I'd say it was an acceptable exception, at least in the context of the scenario given anyway.
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Postby Predator » 2004-05-16 07:31am

I know, however, the ends do not justify the means in a moral scenario.
If the ends can justify the means, torturing and experimenting on orphans and killing them to find a cure for cancer is morally justifiable.


It would depend on how confident we felt that doing so would actually result in a cure for cancer, and if there was no other, less harmful way to achieve the same results. If we were really, absolutely certain... then yes, that would be justified, since the consequences would be incredibly beneficial, at the cost of some significantly smaller number of lives lost due to torture and experimentation.

You've got a hardon for torture being a valid approach for something, despite the fact all evidence shows that people will confess ANYTHING under torture, and by anything I do not mean what they have done, I mean that they are Napoleon or the Julius Ceaser. You can cram this bullshit scenario up your ass alongside the crap you've been spouting in N&P.


No I dont. Torture's a horrible thing -and for all I know (I've not seen any actual study results etc), people are absolutely right in saying torture doesnt work. I hope it doesnt work, so that it cannot ever be justified. That half of the discussion I'm having in N&P is merely dealing with the question, in a world where we assume it does work. A mental/ethical exercise conditional on that fact.
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Postby Keevan_Colton » 2004-05-16 07:37am

Ah, so you want to play in the particularly bullshit end of philosophy.

How certain do you have to be that torturing children will bring about a cure to cancer before you're willing to do it?

The crux of the problem with your bullshit scenario is the assumptions that make it what it is...the key two being

1. Torture works.
2. There is no way but torture.

Then again, the stupid ass scenario seems to be the great realm of philosophy. I hope you also realise you're being a dipshit and attempting a grand fallacy with this linked to your thread over there...ad Populum.
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Postby Predator » 2004-05-16 07:44am

Ah, so you want to play in the particularly bullshit end of philosophy.

How certain do you have to be that torturing children will bring about a cure to cancer before you're willing to do it?


You're going to need to provide more information. How many children are we talking about? Are we talking about a one off test involving a fixed number of children with a certain % certainty of success? Or a % chance per child tortured that the cure will be found?

Then again, the stupid ass scenario seems to be the great realm of philosophy. I hope you also realise you're being a dipshit and attempting a grand fallacy with this linked to your thread over there...ad Populum.


Heh, to the untrained eye perhaps. If you were following the discussion properly, you'd know we were talkiung about the ability of a policy to be passed, at least ideally, the politicians will is determined by the population's will (which this poll, crudely, attempts to gauge - dont bother going on about how the SDN population isnt necessarily representative, I already know). This is an ad populum fallacy in so far as democracy suffers from the ad populum fallacy.

When discussing matters that rely on or are highly influenced by public opinion, assessing public opinion is valid.
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Postby Keevan_Colton » 2004-05-16 07:47am

Thank fuck then that we dont live in a pure democracy then eh?
This is still bullshit showmanship on your part.
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Re: The morality of torture: An Osama bin Laden scenario

Postby Stofsk » 2004-05-16 08:07am

PredatorX wrote:The question is simple: Given the above circumstances should Osama be tortured to extract the information, or should the plot be allowed to succeed?

IF torture works and IF the information received from Osama is accurate and reliabe and IF it can be used to help foil the plot then the correct moral choice is to tortue him for the information. One man's discomfort doesn't equal 300 people's lives. Of course, I have problems with the concept of "IF torture works" because I don't think it can lead to reliable information. The scenario is heavily conditioned to give one particular answer.

The other problem with the scenario is that it assumes torture is the only option - what about a good interrogation? What about negotiation? These are all options that are possible, yet their inclusion makes this thought experiment a lot more grey.
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Postby Illuminatus Primus » 2004-05-16 01:05pm

Keevan, it sounds suspiciously like you deride the senario because you know under it you vote yes, and that bothers you.
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Postby Keevan_Colton » 2004-05-16 01:14pm

Illuminatus Primus wrote:Keevan, it sounds suspiciously like you deride the senario because you know under it you vote yes, and that bothers you.


I deride the scenario because it is worthy of derision, is there a special on fallacies today? Did you get a free sample appeal to motive where Predator here got his appeal to popualrity?
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Postby GySgt. Hartman » 2004-05-16 02:54pm

Since I do believe there should be moral absolutes - no. Torture is never justifiable. I wouldn't kill a child to save the lives of hundreds, or thousands, or however many. I wouldn't torture it either. I wouldn't torture a murderer either. One argument for this is the human capacity for failure. Maybe Osama doesn't have the information you ask for. With things like these, there simply is no certainty.
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Postby Durandal » 2004-05-16 03:33pm

If there are many lives imminently at stake and we need the information now, then torture is perfectly justifiable. In a scenario like this, you have to look at the raw numbers. It's not pretty, but when you've got hundreds or thousands of lives at stake, I won't lose any sleep if a known terrorist is tortured to extract information.
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Postby CrimsonRaine » 2004-05-16 04:08pm

To be blunt, torture is a waste of time. The strongest reasons for torture that stand out in my mind are for information or sadistic pleasure. Call me foolish but I say kill the fucker before we waste any more time and anguish on this situation.

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Postby CrimsonRaine » 2004-05-16 04:09pm

CrimsonRaine wrote:To be blunt, torture is a waste of time. The strongest reasons for torture that stand out in my mind are for information or sadistic pleasure. Call me foolish but I say kill the fucker before we waste any more time and anguish on this situation.

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Ack, wait. I might've misread some things. Are we digging information out of Bin Laden? If so, then my above statement makes no sense. :) I thought this was a question of torture for the sake of justice.

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Postby Illuminatus Primus » 2004-05-16 10:32pm

Keevan_Colton wrote:
Illuminatus Primus wrote:Keevan, it sounds suspiciously like you deride the senario because you know under it you vote yes, and that bothers you.


I deride the scenario because it is worthy of derision, is there a special on fallacies today? Did you get a free sample appeal to motive where Predator here got his appeal to popualrity?


No, its not a logical fallacy. An Appeal to Motive Fallacy would be me arguing that your position is wrong because of your motive in having your position. I simply asked what your motive was.

I didn't say you were wrong in your assessment of the thread's character, either.

Still, I do think it asks an important moral question.

The OP does awknowledge possible flaws in torture and not being sure, etc. It simply applies the moral question: "is torture acceptable under any circumstances?" Which is valid.

I brought up my point because it seems there are circumstances you would have to choose the many over the one, and you're naturally uncomfortable with such a choice, like all. Still, the OP does awknowledge the specific quality of the question it asks, and I think its valid.
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Postby Thirdfain » 2004-05-16 10:38pm

The discomfort of one is massively outweighed by the possible deaths of many. Fuck moral high grounds, if there's a 1 in 10 chance that torturing Bin Laden, or a 5 year-old for that matter, will save 300 lives, then I'm all for it.

If you choose otherwise, you'll get the warm fuzzy feeling of maintaining the moral high ground, but there's a chance that hundreds will die so you can hold on to a sense of moral accomplishment. That's not even close to a fair trade.
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Postby Darth Wong » 2004-05-16 10:41pm

You can't resolve ethical dilemmas by simply quoting axioms such as "the ends do not justify the means". The obvious retort is WHY NOT?

Let's take a more explicit, albeit unlikely scenario: you have captured a terrorist in downtown Chicago. He has just armed a nuclear weapon which will go off in two hours. The device is quite sophisticated and could easily be set off if you attempt to move it or defuse it improperly. The only way to defuse it safely is to enter the disarm code, and there is no way you can get the entire population of Chicago to safe distance in two hours. The man has an airline ticket on him. It is obvious that he did not plan to die here.

Do you torture him for the disarm code? Do you strap him to the bomb? Or do you do the noble thing and evacuate him along with everyone else you can get out in time, so that he can receive a fair trial in safety?
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Postby Illuminatus Primus » 2004-05-16 10:45pm

I, personally, go get a power drill and begin putting holes in his toes. No way any innocent person deserved to die just so this fuck could get a free trial under the honorable treatment. By that logic the simple assumption of a moral high ground is better than a human life.

I say no to that, and torture his ass until he sings.
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Postby Durandal » 2004-05-17 12:12am

Precisely. If he was going to get out of Dodge, then he's not willing to die for his cause, hence he'll break when tortured personally.

Now, how about a more interesting scenario from the TV show 24?

You've got a terrorist in custody, and he knows the location of a nuclear bomb set to go off in a city like Los Angeles, Chicago or New York. This guy obviously was going to stay in the city for the detonation, so he's willing to die for his cause. (On 24, the guy was a Muslim terrorist.)

So you can torture the guy all you want; he won't break. He is your only hope of finding this bomb in time. But, you have one piece of leverage: his family. You can coordinate with Saudi Arabian security forces and have his family arrested and taken into custody. From there, you can set up a live video feed and show them to him, threatening to kill them, one by one, if he doesn't give up the information you need.

Do you threaten and possibly kill his family to break him?
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Postby Stofsk » 2004-05-17 12:48am

Yes. I know the episode you're talking about, so the story itself kind of makes everything rosy at the end when Jack reveals it was a deception anyway.

Time is ticking, it's the only leverage you've got and alternative methods (negotiation, interrogation) will either take too much time or won't guarantee compliance. So, threaten his family. He's prepared to die for the cause, but he might not be prepared for his family to be harmed as a consequence. It is a scummy thing to do, but while one family might be broken by it, even killed by it, there's also the thousands of families who are guaranteed to die if that bomb isn't found and taken care of.

The problem I can see is that it may not work. He may not break, and he could sit there taped to the screen and watch his wife and kids get bullets into their brains and not blink. Hell, he's prepared to kill thousands of other people, why not his own flesh and blood? However, all this means is that death count goes up by +4 or 5, out of already thousands, should the ploy fail and the bomb go off as a result.

But seriously, what other options are available? Offer him a deal? Interrogate him as opposed to threaten his family? What if he stalls, in an attempt to control the negotiation/interrogation? What if he lies about the location, to send you on a wild goose chase? If family is correctly identified as leverage, then exploit it. It might cost you your self-respect if you directly or indirectly allow innocents to come to harm, but if it works then thousands of innocents are safe and secure.
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Postby Durandal » 2004-05-17 01:08am

Stofsk wrote:Yes. I know the episode you're talking about, so the story itself kind of makes everything rosy at the end when Jack reveals it was a deception anyway.


Well it's not like he had a choice. He knew the president would never sanction those kinds of methods. And if you can make it a deception and avoid killing innocents, so much the better.

But after the scene ended, I was fairly convinced that Jack would have actually gone through it if there was no other option. I'm pretty sure that was the point the scene wanted to drive home.

Time is ticking, it's the only leverage you've got and alternative methods (negotiation, interrogation) will either take too much time or won't guarantee compliance. So, threaten his family. He's prepared to die for the cause, but he might not be prepared for his family to be harmed as a consequence. It is a scummy thing to do, but while one family might be broken by it, even killed by it, there's also the thousands of families who are guaranteed to die if that bomb isn't found and taken care of.

The problem I can see is that it may not work. He may not break, and he could sit there taped to the screen and watch his wife and kids get bullets into their brains and not blink. Hell, he's prepared to kill thousands of other people, why not his own flesh and blood? However, all this means is that death count goes up by +4 or 5, out of already thousands, should the ploy fail and the bomb go off as a result.


He may or may not respond. But there's nothing else really to be done except ask him politely, which won't get you anywhere. If it was practical, the agent in charge might consider flying his family into the city where the bomb was supposed to go off. But in the specific case of 24, they were across the Atlantic.

But seriously, what other options are available? Offer him a deal? Interrogate him as opposed to threaten his family? What if he stalls, in an attempt to control the negotiation/interrogation? What if he lies about the location, to send you on a wild goose chase? If family is correctly identified as leverage, then exploit it. It might cost you your self-respect if you directly or indirectly allow innocents to come to harm, but if it works then thousands of innocents are safe and secure.


A deal is out of the question. If the guy's willing to die, he doesn't want to deal. He just wants the bomb to go off.
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Postby Chris OFarrell » 2004-05-17 01:28am

You know there was a DS9 episode that delt with a similar 'do the ends justify the means' question. In The Pale Moonlight. Where Sisko and Garak tricked the Romulans into entering the Dominion War on the UFP's side.

The plan was to simply falsify data showing the Dominion about to launch a war on the Romulans. The Romulans of course found out it was a fake and headed back to Romulas to expose it. Halfway home, their shuttle blew up but the Talshiar found the rod, its flaws now attributed to the explosion after they reconstructed it.

And so the Romulans declared war on the Dominion. Sisko at the end of the episode gives an interesting speach about the ends vs the means. That this may well be the turning point in the war and all it cost was the lives of one Romulan Senator, one Criminal and Siskos self respect. And he admitted that it was a bargen.

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Postby Stofsk » 2004-05-17 01:31am

Durandal wrote:Well it's not like he had a choice. He knew the president would never sanction those kinds of methods. And if you can make it a deception and avoid killing innocents, so much the better.

True. I felt like I had been deceived (as a viewer), and that's why I said the "rosy" comment. It just seemed to work out, when it could have backfired. Though if you can deceive the person into thinking he saw his boy get shot in the head by masked security agents, and if THAT works, then of course it's preferable.

If it was practical, the agent in charge might consider flying his family into the city where the bomb was supposed to go off. But in the specific case of 24, they were across the Atlantic.

Assuming it was practical, would it be the same thing though? Direct, time-dependent threat ie "I'm gonna order those masked men to kill your child right now, you've got 5 seconds" as opposed to indirect, no time dependent threat ie "Your family will die in the explosion you caused."

Would the family be together? Or will they be separated ie unable to communicate with each other? If they were together the possibility exists that the wife is just as much a fanatic as her husband, and she'll give some kind of encouragement to our happy terrorist. What I mean is, there's a difference between some masked agent breaking into your home and holding a gun to your head, with the finger on the trigger waiting for the "Go!" signal, and sitting on your arse waiting for a bomb, that your husband planted, to explode and take you up to Allah (or whoever).

A deal is out of the question. If the guy's willing to die, he doesn't want to deal. He just wants the bomb to go off.

Agreed. I was just listing possible alternatives, which WOULDN'T be feasible given the nature of the scenario.
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