EDEB8 - Ultimate Online Debating
About Us   Debate    Judge   Forum

That torture should never be used by the government

0 points
0 points
RomaniiRomanii (PRO)

Thanks, admin. I look forward to a good debate.

I would like to start off by noting that I have copied portions of my case from a debate I did on debate.org under the username UchihaMadara (http://www.debate.org/debates/Torture-Can-Be-Acceptable/2/). If necessary, I can provide proof that this user is, indeed, me.

C1) Unethical

The use of torture is a blatant violation of human rights, and is therefore a moral abomination that should not be practiced under any circumstance. Of course, in order to make such a bold claim, I would have to justify the existence of these so-called "human rights". To do so, we must visit the question of what exactly grants human beings any ethical significance in the first place: it is quite plain to see that the most striking factor which differentiates humans from the rest of the amoral universe is their *personal autonomy* -- their ability to fully control themselves and to exercise free will over their actions. Without personal autonomy, morality cannot exist because humans would be nothing more than complex machines subject to the deterministic processes governing the rest of the impersonal and amoral universe; they would have no more ethical significance than a rock. We cannot resort to such a nihilistic view because the resolution of the debate includes the term "should", implying that the existence of morality in some form is being assumed.

Thus, personal autonomy is a characteristic inherent in every human being, which grants each one complete jurisdiction over his or her own self. With that established, we can easily see why acts of aggression and coercion should be considered morally unacceptable-- they blatantly infringe on this fundamental human right to autonomy. Torture represents the epitome of an aggressive/coercive act, being the purposeful infliction of severe physical harm upon a person's body in an attempt to force them to act/speak against their own will. Thus, it is a moral abomination which only serves to dehumanize its victims by violating their most basic human rights. Given the gravely unethical nature of torture, it is quite obvious that it should never be used, especially by a *government*, which is given the responsibility of *protecting* it's people's rights. 

C2) Ineffective

Torture is a highly ineffective means of obtaining information, thus virtually erasing any benefit that could possibly come from using it. Under the duress which is invoked by torture, the victim is very likely to give false information or become completely unresponsive, as is confirmed by a growing body of research on the subject:

"...a growing number of behavioral scientists has begun researching interrogation and lie-detection methods in an effort to scientifically determine what works, what doesn't, and why... a general consensus has emerged that supports the experience of interrogators like Soufan: torture doesn't provide reliable intelligence, the U.S. government's list of approved interrogation techniques is outdated, and detecting liars based solely on body language is barely more reliable than flipping a coin... According to Reuters, a Senate Intelligence Committee report, which will be released this summer, is also expected to find little evidence that the CIA’s enhanced-interrogation [torture] program led to any major breakthroughs in the war on terror. And in a report released in 2009, the CIA’s own inspector general found no evidence that the agency’s practices stopped any imminent attacks. Nor could it ascertain whether the enhanced-interrogation techniques obtained information that the agency couldn’t have obtained through less coercive means," [1].

Psychological studies such as the one conducted by the FBI’s High Value Detainee Interrogation Group demonstrate that humans are most likely to just do whatever is necessary to make the pain stop, whether that entails fabrications that conform to what the torturers want to hear, or complete unresponsiveness [1]. This especially true given that in the modern world, the most likely subjects of torture are going to be members of radical Islamic terrorist groups, who are infamously capable of valuing their mission over their own well-being [2]. Furthermore, we have empirical evidence of the disastrous results of acting on information obtained via torture: false confessions which were obtained by the torturing of Libyan nationalist Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi in 2001 are what eventually led the US Government to its ultimately pointless invasion of Iraq [3].

Perhaps most importantly, there are alternative methods of obtaining information that are much more humane, less coercive, and demonstrably more effective. Research on the effects of torture done by Matthew Alexander, who has much experience conducting/overseeing numerous interrogations that occurred during the Iraq War, has conclusively demonstrated that diplomatic methods of interrogation can be used to efficiently obtain consistently accurate information *even* in high-stress situations. One of his detainees even told him so directly: "I thought you would torture me, and when you didn't, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That's why I decided to cooperate." [4].

C3) Misc. Issues

I will now point out a couple specific issues with using torture in its two most common settings: ticking time-bomb scenarios and international warfare.

1. In ticking time-bomb scenarios, there are severe time constraints present which disallow a thorough investigation into the situation, meaning that there is a significant chance of the suspect being tortured turning out to be innocent; such an outcome would render the act of torture to be completely and utterly despicable under any ethical framework. Not only would fundamental human rights have been violated, but there would be no positive utility whatsoever coming from it. When the government ends up violating the most basic human rights of its own citizens, it defeats the purpose of its own existence (to protect its people's rights) and becomes illegitimate. In order to avoid this, the government should always prefer alternative measures such as humane interrogation methods (as described in C2) or evacuating the people in danger.

2. In the wars of the modern era, one highly important factor for success is public perception, and using torture on the enemy has often proven to be highly detrimental in that sense. Take the example of the United States, when a Senate report was released about the CIA's use of torture in wars abroad: "[One Twitter user] compared the torture to acts of brutality committed by Isil... The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors Islamic militant web activity, said the Senate report had 'ignited an overwhelming response from the online jihadist community, with many calling for retaliation against the US and promoting jihad.'... Experts are worried the report could be used as a recruitment tool by extremists... President Barack Obama admitted some of the tactics detailed in the explosive report's 500-page declassified summary were 'brutal... we took some steps that were contrary to who we are, contrary to our values.'"  [5]. In short, the use of torture in war causes the government to lose its "moral high ground", marring its reputation by appearing hypocritical to its own citizens and allies, turning moderates and fence-sitters against it, and opening it up to intensified retaliatory attacks by the enemy.

CONCLUSION: Torture is an unconditionally immoral abuse of human rights which should not occur any under circumstance, let alone at the hands of the government. Not only that, but it is also highly ineffective and sometimes even counter-productive, with alternative methods of obtaining information being preferable in any scenario. Furthermore, there are some other negative effects of using torture in specific situations, such as the possibility of torturing innocents and the unintended consequences it has on public perception and foreign relations. It is quite clear that there is no case in which the government should be using torture. The resolution is affirmed.

I look forward to Con's response! 


[1] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/05/25/new-research-suggests-enhanced-interrogation-not-effective.html

[2] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/killed-boston-terror-suspect-die-islam-report-article-1.1327010

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibn_al-Shaykh_al-Libi

[4] http://www.lewrockwell.com/2009/05/ron-paul/the-torture-crossroads/

[5] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11284212/Jihadists-issue-call-for-retaliation-against-US-over-torture-report.html

Return To Top | Posted:
2015-02-10 13:07:00
| Speak Round
adminadmin (CON)
I thank my opponent for opening his case.

"Torture" is a broad word. Some would argue that paying tax is torturous. Based on my reading of pro's case, I'm going to interpret that he believes this resolution is specifically limited to the use of exceptional physiological or physical distress in order to obtain information. I, however, take a broader view, in that torture is also often used as a punishment. Let me briefly go through the justifications for each:
  • Information: this is essentially about maximizing the governments power in their overall goal of saving lives, which we believe is a good thing. With a minimum of harm to the one being tortured, the torturers might be able to find information about such life-saving things as enemy plans in a war, or the location of some time bomb.
  • Punishment: torture is so scary and effective that when used, people don't want to go through it again. In this light it's a more humane alternative to the death penalty that carries a strong retributive streak but still manages to balance rehabilitation well if done correctly. This is the government ensuring law and order in society, which again, is good.

On side negative we also realize that torture is often misused in unjustifiable circumstances - when they torture the wrong guy, for example - but these are beyond the scope of the resolution. We are asking if torture is ever ok.

I agree human rights exist. I further believe that since all other rights are predicated on this, the right to life is the most fundamental of these rights - even above the right to bodily integrity. Where human lives need protecting, human rights analysis thus justifies any attack on a person that saves lives. To that end this is a moot point, as it all depends on the moral outcome of the torture, that is to say, the effectiveness, discussed below.

Pro's view is that moral rights require not life but personal autonomy. This is fine, but autonomy is first predicated on life. If you're dead, you have no personal autonomy. Even zombies or vampires seem locked into deterministic modes in all the horror movies I've seen - very predictable. Pro further presents no justification for why autonomy exists other than that the resolution - which he has to prove true - includes the word "should". Just because the resolution says something does not mean we can assume it is true. The resolution also plainly states that pro is right but that's the point - pro is supposed to argue for why he is right rather than assume everything. Further he does nothing to show that the rest of the universe is amoral.

He then uses this as a twisted justification to take away the torturer's autonomy to torture, since it imposes on somebody else. Sure, but we want to maximize personal autonomy, right? In that case we first need to protect and save lives. It's as simple as that. If torture works and prevents somebody being killed, then that torture is morally justified under even this moral framework. Even if only a single life was saved, that life was worth the incursion on personal autonomy because of all the other rights of that person protected. Sometimes "immoral" actions need to be taken for the greater moral good.

So let's clarify this a bit. Torture is agreed by almost everybody to be highly effective at causing pain and distress. When Christopher Hitchens was waterboarded for 10 seconds, he claimed it was "the longest ten seconds of my life", and it's not hard to see why. I doubt my opponent will contest this, because the "research" he cites is predicated on it. He claims torture is so effective people will just say anything to get out of it, or shut up out of spite. This has happened numerous times. The United States has mentioned that in spite of failures (which pro has been quick to bring up), dozens of potential attacks were thwarted thanks to torture (source).

Let's begin by noting that this only addresses one of the two main reasons torture happens. For the other one, so far, we can assume agreement that torture is totally effective.

Here's why people often do tell the truth when they're tortured. In the first place, most people who get tortured don't expect to be caught at all. Often they may pay lip service to the idea that their mission is greater than any torture, but once it gets personal, things are often quite different. You compound that with severe stress and suddenly things can be different. In principle, it's the same as a police officer pointing a gun at somebody's head and "asking" them to comply. What makes people comply is the recognition of the reality of their own fear for their life. This is not to say that everybody has this fear, however reasonable it may be, but as long as some people do then torture works.

So let's examine lying. In most cases, lying is extremely easy to detect - just ask them some questions you already know the answers to. This is indeed the method most commonly used. By not revealing which questions you already know the answers to, you can safely detect whether a suspect is lying. Although I have no doubt the reports are accurate that most people will try to lie under torture, the fact that they know it was a lie is helpful too. The torture can always be continued until the truth is obtained if need be. The exact same thing is also done without torture. People may lie if tortured, but then they may also lie if not tortured, so ultimately it's no better at best.

In the event of silence, sure, torture won't work on everybody, even if it will still work on many. But even then, you'll probably still ensure compliance, if not information, so it's not a total waste. The fact that torture typically works still justifies its use. Ultimately the effect of torture depends on the character of the individual being tortured - some break super easily, others never do.

Let's turn to Ron Paul's alternative - asking nicely. This turns out not to be based on any science but on a single experience of an air force investigator in Iraq, namely Matthew Alexander. In his particular experience, it worked, but this is not to say it is the norm. Different individuals respond to different techniques, and I'm sure there are many people for whom asking nicely would fail. I would further argue that asking nicely is somewhat easier to train against resisting, as the response of torture can often be fairly involuntary if a person is trying to protect their life.

Ticking time bomb
First, note that my opponent concedes this is a common setting.

I agree governments should not torture innocent people. Banning all torture, though, is different from the misuse of torture. I also believe that governments should not arrest innocent people, but that does not mean I believe governments should arrest nobody. With regard to the limited investigation, governments have to make choices to maximize the chance of survival for the people. Sometimes they will be right, and sometimes wrong. They do the best they can and hope they turn out right. A more "humane" method would not save any more or less lives in the alternate scenario. If a government judges torture is the best way to get through to somebody and save a life, then not allowing that to happen on the basis that they might be wrong puts a person's life in unnecessary jeopardy.

Moral high ground
Ultimately this is just a restatement of the ethical point my opponent raised at the beginning of his case. It adds nothing new to the debate and presupposes that torture is immoral, a claim which I do not concede.

I want to briefly attack the claim that people are drawn against nations such as the US due to torture since that seems to be an undercurrent of my opponent's case. Al Qaeda tortures captives. ISIS tortures captives. North Korea tortures captives. Any claim that people like those guys simply because the US tortures is logically ridiculous, because they're the same. Torture is fairly ubiquitous in the world as it happens, and for good reason - torture works. 

The resolution is negated.

Return To Top | Posted:
2015-02-16 15:06:37
| Speak Round
RomaniiRomanii (PRO)
Thanks, admin.

My opponent starts off by noting that torture can also be used for the purposes of criminal justice, claiming that such punishment is very effective in terms of deterrence and rehabilitation. However, he fails the provide any evidence for this claim at all. The use of torture in criminal punishment has become nearly extinct in modern times, with the only places it is still being practiced being countries which certainly do *not* have lower crime rates than those of anti-torture countries [1]. In other words, the available evidence flatly contradicts Con's claim. If anything, using torture for criminal punishment only ignites social unrest by causing a country's citizens feel a sense of disgust at the government, and making them feel as if they are being oppressed. This claim actually *is* supported by the evidence, seeing that the countries which use torture to punish common criminals also happen to be ones which are infamous for their political turmoil. Thus, torture should certainly not be used by the government for criminal justice. 

R1) Unethical

Con concedes that human rights exist; however, he seems to misunderstand exactly what a "right" is. It is not something that can so easily be overridden for the sake of the "greater good". In order for rights to have any meaning, they must be held as absolute-- otherwise, they are nothing more than general rules which can be broken whenever the government feels like it. That is the difference between utilitarianism and deontological systems of morality. Utilitarianism fundamentally disallows the existence of moral absolutes such as human rights, so by conceding that such rights exist, Con is completely undermining his own utilitarian argument for torture. Con goes on to claim that the right to life is more important to protect than the right to bodily integrity because "autonomy is first predicated on life", but that doesn't really prove anything because autonomy is *equally* predicated upon bodily integrity, seeing that a person's body is the sole vessel of their own existence. There is simply no way for Con to advocate a worldview in which human rights exist *and* torture is morally permissible. It remains the case that torture is a categorically immoral violation of human rights. Anyways, as will be discussed in the next rebuttal, Con's response is wholly irrelevant because there are ways protect the right to bodily integrity *and* the right to life, such as evacuating the potential victims or using more humane methods of interrogation. 

R2) Ineffective

I do not contest the notion that torture is an effective way of causing extreme pain... that is the definition of torture. I am contesting that causing such extreme pain is necessarily the best way to save lives in situations where torture is commonly used. Con starts off by citing a source in which the Director of the CIA, in response to publicly-released reports on the organization's use of torture, claims that the use of torture *did* save lives. However, this is highly unreliable evidence for Con's claim, because 1) the director never actually produces any solid examples of this occurring, and 2) the director would obviously have a vested interest in preserving the honor and reputation of his own organization, and thus has a strong motive for fabrication. Con's source is nothing more than the empty promises of a politician, made to save his own image. On the other hand, in my last round I produced two pieces of more reliable evidence from a Senate Intelligence Committee report and the CIA's inspector general, explicitly stating that the use of torture did *not* produce any significant information. It is safe to say that my claim is far more well-substantiated than Con's-- previous experiences go to show that torture is *not* an effective tool for obtaining information. 

Con explains why torture and "enhanced interrogation methods" should work in theory, but such hypothetical reasoning is completely irrelevant if all the scientific and historical evidence we have seen flatly contradicts it. Despite all his explanation, Con has stilled failed to produce any empirical evidence to counter mine. It doesn't matter how Con thinks it *should* work; what matters is how it *actually* works, and so far, I have shown that using torture does *not* actually work, for the reasons described last round.

Con claims that my alternative interrogation techniques are based on a single interrogator's experiences, but that is a blatant misrepresentation of my argument; I specifically noted that numerous scientific studies, such as the ones conducted by the FBI’s High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, produce evidence which supports the use of such interrogation techniques. Matthew Alexander's research was just another example of such a study. Furthermore, these newer interrogation methods are not as simple as "asking nicely", as my opponent seems to be suggesting; they are about using tested psychological techniques to build a relationship with the suspect, to reverse the effects of brain-washing, and/or to evoke fear in the suspect. Once again, my opponent has not actually rebutted my point. There is more than enough reason to believe that humane, alternative methods of interrogation will always be much more effective at obtaining information than torture. Thus, we should reject the use of torture even from a utilitarian standpoint.

R3) Ticking Time-Bomb

I did not concede that the ticking time-bomb scenario is common, but that it a setting in which torture is commonly used... Anyways, Con has not really done anything to counter my argument other than say "too bad"; he seems to underestimate the magnitude of the crime of torturing an innocent person. As noted earlier, such an incident would literally de-legitimize the government, and it would be a moral atrocity under any ethical framework. Because there are such high stakes, and especially because time constraints would render the probability of accidentally torturing an innocent person to be much higher than usual, the government should *always* prefer other ways to solve the problem. Simply ordering an evacuation of the area to be bombed would completely eliminate the potential cost to human life, thus ensuring that only property damage would result from the explosion. Moreover, humane psychological interrogation techniques have been known to work even in high-stress situations, meaning that they are viable solutions to a ticking time-bomb. Not even the most famous torture scenario actually warrants torture when examined analytically. 

R4) Warfare

Con misses the point of my argument. This has nothing to do with the ethical case presented in C1; it is about the fact that since the majority of people morally condemn of torture, using it has negative effects on the government's public perception, which translates to tangible harms such as weakened support at home, the radicalization of moderates, and intensified retaliatory attacks by the enemy. I am not claiming that supporters of the government will suddenly flop sides either; although general discontentment with the government will certainly increase, I am referring more to those who are on the fence. It doesn't matter if the other side also uses torture-- simply showing that the government is "just as bad" as the other side is enough to change peoples' opinion of it. As demonstrated in the news source presented last round, terrorist organizations *did* successfully utilize the outrage over CIA torture practices as a tool for recruiting new members, regardless of the fact that those same organizations also use torture. Having the "moral high ground" is an important factor in the government's public perception, both domestically and globally, and the use of torture in warfare heavily jeopardizes that potential advantage.

I don't feel like writing a conclusion.
The resolution is affirmed!

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_of_torture_since_1948

Return To Top | Posted:
2015-02-21 10:22:26
| Speak Round
adminadmin (CON)
Crime Deterrence
A correlation between torture and higher crime does not imply causation. If you're a small time thief and you get waterboarded, chances are you'll be rethinking your life priorities, not driven to get this done again. The point of torture is that it's torturous - something that people want to avoid at all costs, especially if they've been through it before. Nobody likes having needles thrust underneath their fingers and toenails. Otherwise we would expect people to quite enjoy living in the likes of Guantanamo Bay, as opposed to staging hunger strikes in an attempt to be transferred. Nor does this automatically signal government oppression to people if the torture was a justifiable response to the crime. Otherwise we would expect the death penalty to have this effect of making people rebellious - and this correlation does not hold true.

It is our claim that where situations arise as my opponent has cited, this is in spite of torture, not because of torture. Torture is used by some governments because the crime rate is so bad, torture becomes an option of last resort before going all the way to killing those criminals. We're talking countries that are largely ruled by violent gangs of thugs - people who would have no hesitation to torture anybody, and much less kill them. In those instances, governments need to resort to torture to protect any semblance at all of peace, law and order. It is no surprise that this takes on a political dimension, because political turmoil is what high crime usually creates. It is the crime rate that causes governments to adopt torture, not torture that causes the crime rate.

What evidence do I have of that? First, note that pro is the one who set himself the onus of proving causation here, and yet they have not. Second, let's be realistic. We're talking about 141 countries here that have used torture recently. Many more outsource torture. So we don't accept that it's just the dataset offered by my opponent's source (which just so happens to be Wikipedia). So let's consider when torture was legalized. Case study: USA 2006. Terror attacks -> war -> torture. It's a pretty clear relationship, and could be contrasted with, say, torture -> war -> terror attacks as would be predicted by pro's analysis.

My opponent's claim that rights are absolute is testable. A basic example of a human right is the right to life, but this rule has innumerable exceptions, including but not limited to war, abortion, the death penalty and euthanasia. Each of these can still be ethically justified under a moral framework of human rights, and this is indeed done routinely in many countries that are nonetheless signatory to treaties affirming these rights, such as the UNDHR. Thus we can see that in this case, the right is not an absolute. To prove that isn't a fluke for that right, take freedom of movement. However, if I want to get off a train while it is moving, I am unable to do so. This is a reasonable and not immoral limitation on my free movement (not least because a ticket acts as a contract I've agreed to prohibiting me from doing so).

Taken another way, just because human rights exist does not automatically mean that human rights are moral absolutes. If my opponent wishes to prove that this is the case, that's his onus. The way it is generally interpreted and is most relevant to this motion, however, things are different. Most countries torture AND most countries also affirm human rights. Their justifications are rather akin to mine, and con's entire counter-claim rests on his non-existent proof that human rights must be morally absolute.

We disagree that autonomy is equally predicated on life as life on autonomy. This is again reasonably simple to prove, once you realize that autonomy is a function of a living thing. It's not breathing that allows us to have lungs but lungs that allow us to breathe. It isn't the concept of thought that makes the brain but brain that makes the thought. Otherwise, where would brains have come from before there was higher-level thinking? It makes no sense from a naturalistic perspective. Autonomy, like thinking or breathing, is something that we do or exercise. As such it requires life. Also, it is possible, naturally, to have a human being with little or no autonomy. Brain operations can be performed to that effect.

As my opponent said, so-called ethical alternatives shall be discussed under their own heading.

Pro must not merely show that torture is ineffective where it is commonly used. He must show torture is never effective in every case.

My evidence is subjective (like all evidence really) as opposed to unreliable, and pro confuses the two. Let me handle his objections in the order he posted them:
  1. being current evidence, it is extremely unlikely that the director would want to put his national security on the line by revealing this information to the public, as opposed to the executive who have the actual oversight powers here.
  2. given his organization's purpose is to defend the country as opposed to being right at all costs, the director's vested interests would more drive him to act in the best interest of the people, including abolishing torture if necessary.
Pro's reports suffer from the same problems: they contain plenty of redacted material (and no specific details really) and each had more or less the same purpose (defending the country) and thus the same "perverse" incentives. At best, the question of reliability comes down to "whom do you trust", which is itself a subjective question. It's not something pro or con can prove definitively.

Pro does not answer my "hypothetical" reasoning backing up my evidence and contradicting his. He merely calls it a hypothetical and says it means nothing next to his analysis (no further explanation given). We simply don't see that as enough. Torture does work and we've provided numerous examples of that so far in this debate.

Alternative methods
Pro argues it's more than just asking nicely. It's not.
  • Reverse brain washing - "I know you think I will torture you, but I really only want that apple. Can I please have it?"
  • Evoke fear - "I know you have an apple. Please give it to me."
Matthew Alexander - not a researcher, by the way - and he didn't publish a study - was certainly the only published successful example of that working. Contrast this with the numerous countries around the world who routinely use torture.

We agree that, where asking nicely would be more effective, it should be the preferred option. We simply disagree that it works in every case. Sometimes a more forceful approach is required to ensure compliance, and we're ok with that. Sure, it worked for Matthew Alexander. It worked in a few theoretical models the FBI ran, maybe. But torture has worked well for centuries.

Ticking time bomb
Pro's case here is premised on the suspect being the wrong guy. That's bad EVERY time even when torture is not used. Heck, consider the death penalty. Innocent people are executed all the time and later found innocent. We totally agree that law enforcement should do their job as well as they can. We might even agree that law enforcement who get it wrong should be prosecuted. But - and this is a big but - it does not follow that it should never be done at all. Speed cameras can nab the wrong guy. Prisons can hold the wrong guy. Armies can shoot the wrong guy. People can get shot by accident. People can trip and hurt themselves by accident. All things that we don't support but that are unfortunate realities of life that we just need to manage. We fail to see why it's marginally worse with torture compared with accidental self-harm.

My opponent has failed to counter my analysis as to why it would not be a moral atrocity under any moral framework (notably mine) or why it would de-legitimize the government (remember my analysis about the petty thief?).

There are times when the government *HAS* no other option than torture. An evacuation is impossible because the police don't know the area to be bombed. We believe that psychological interrogation fails to be effective unless it is more than just asking nicely, in which case it would amount to torture. We don't believe torture has to mean inflicting physical wounds, and note that waterboarding (for example) is commonly referred to a "psychological interrogation" such as the kind pro now makes a blanket concession on.

Again, it does rely on the majority of people having an ethical objection to torture. And... they don't. The fact is most people would rather see captives tortured then freed (the man who runs away will fight again) or killed (morally worse or at least equally bad). Just having them sitting in prison doesn't do much good either. We believe governments required the autonomy to use these prisoners to get whatever information is required to bring the war to an end swiftly. In short, just another rehash of the moral point in another context.

Finally, if torture is universally wrong, then people should condemn both sides for using torture, yet they do not. This alone proves it cannot be the torture that WAS used as a recruiting tool as pro asserts. No moderates were radicalized to the US cause so why should they be to al Qaeda for the same reason. The US didn't step up their attacks due to torture, in fact they expressly refused to be intimidated. Why would the same not be true of their enemies? The long and short of it is, if both sides concede the moral high ground then there is no problem here, and everybody concedes the moral high ground. Nobody wants to not torture because torture is just that awesome.

The resolution is negated.

Return To Top | Posted:
2015-02-28 03:18:49
| Speak Round
RomaniiRomanii (PRO)
R1) Criminal Justice

Here, we have two hypotheses on the effects of using torture in criminal justice. Con claims that torture would be an effective deterrent on crime, whereas I claim that the use of torture to punish common criminals is a signature of a primitive and oppressive regime, which encourages civil unrest due to dissatisfaction with the government. When we look at how things play out in the real world, we see a very clear trend-- countries which use torture in criminal justice not only have high violent crime rates, but they are also all infamous for their political turmoil. This flatly contradicts Con's hypothesis *and* fully conforms to mine. Yes, it is just a correlation, so it is not enough to conclusively declare anything, but it is certainly enough to say that my hypothesis is far more likely to be true that Con's. Even if it were true that those oppressive governments started using torture in response to high crime rates (a claim with no evidence whatsoever), we would still expect to see those countries' crime rates to decrease after they started using torture, yet no such trend exists.

Con claims that if my hypothesis is true we would see a similar dissent-inducing effect with the death penalty. He is correct, and we *do* see this effect-- countries with widespread use of the death penalty are less stable than those without it [1]. Among the countries which commit the most executions per year are North Korea, Iran, and China, none of which are known for their political stability or low crime rates. With the exception of the United States, none of the World's most developed countries even have the death penalty as an option for criminal punishment; and the US's annual execution rate of around 40 people is hardly enough to be considered "widespread use" of the DP. 

Con further argues that the use of torture to punish a criminal wouldn't evoke a negative public reaction if it was "justified". However, consider that Con's main premise of this contention is that torture would create a deterrent effect. The only way to accomplish this would be to use it frequently and across a wide variety of crimes-- if the average criminal did not think there was a high chance of getting tortured for his actions, then he has no reason to abstain from committing his crime, even following Con's hypothetical reasoning. And yet that sort of usage of torture, punishing crimes ranging from robbery to sexual misconduct to homicide, is precisely the sort of government action which people tend to perceive as oppression. Thus, even if torture was an effective crime deterrent (which it certainly isn't), using it as one would still cause political instability due to perceived oppression on the part of the population. The use of torture in criminal justice is entirely unfeasible.

R2) Unethical

Con claims that there are plenty of exceptional cases in which human rights can be violated. However, this completely defeats the purpose of a 'right'. Like I said, Con's utilitarian framework reduces rights to general rules which can be violated whenever 'greater good' is supposedly at stake. The problem with such a flexible moral system is that whether or not a given rights violation is justifiable is completely open to subjective interpretation. Con says that war, abortion, the death penalty, and euthanasia are all justifiable violations of the right to life, yet someone else may vehemently disagree and say that none of those rights violations are outweighed by their positive consequences. Utility and the "greater good" are inherently subjective, and so a system based entirely upon them cannot be relied upon to render objective moral judgments. A deontological moral system in which human rights are preserved as absolute is clearly preferable. Con claims I must justify the absolute nature of human rights, but I have already done so, in the first round of this debate... I justified human rights from personal autonomy, which is the distinguishing characteristic of a human being. In other words, a person's rights are intrinsically tied to his humanity, so as long as he is a human being, his rights must be preserved. In this sense, rights are, indeed, absolute. Notice that the *only* attempt Con has made at justifying his utilitarian framework is ad populum fallacies (i.e. "most countries do this, therefore I'm right"). Thus, my framework is preferable by default. 

In an attempt to show why human life is more important than the right to personal autonomy, Con claims that "autonomy is a function of a living thing", but he fails to realize that life without autonomy is completely meaningless. Bacteria and protists are also alive, yet we regularly experiment on them and kill them in massive numbers in high school biology classes without any moral qualms at all. Life on its own does not grant a being ethical significance-- only autonomy can do that. As I stated before, a being without autonomy is mindless and might as well be inanimate. Con simply doesn't have any ground stand on, here-- if human rights exist, they are absolute, and must be preserved regardless of whatever Con personally feels outweighs those rights .

R3) Ineffective

This portion of the debate has gotten rather disorganized, so I will just respond to it point by point...

"Pro must not merely show that torture is ineffective where it is commonly used. He must show torture is never effective in every case."

I do not have to show that torture is ineffective in every case-- I have to show that there is a *better option* in every case. I do obviously maintain that torture is rarely effective, but the crux of my argument is that there are always more humane alternatives which the government should always prefer.

"being current evidence, it is extremely unlikely that the director would want to put his national security on the line by revealing this information to the public, as opposed to the executive who have the actual oversight powers here."

The use of torture wasn't "current". It had been going on for years, and at the time the report was published (2014), both the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan were already coming to a close. If there was any merit to the director's claims, then surely there would be at least one older example which wouldn't endanger national security. But there is no such example. All Con was able to present us with was the empty promises of a politician who was in trouble. 

given his organization's purpose is to defend the country as opposed to being right at all costs, the director's vested interests would more drive him to act in the best interest of the people, including abolishing torture if necessary.

His organization may have the ultimate goal of defending the country, but that does not mean that is always going to be his goal-- especially not when his professional reputation is one the line. Politicians are not perfectly noble; when they are under pressure, they will say what it takes to get out of it, even if it is not truthful. When someone has advocated something for a long time, it is natural for them to become defensive and continue supporting it  even after they have been proven wrong, simply because they do not want to have to publicly accept their mistakes. Con places far too much faith in the director's integrity.

Pro's reports suffer from the same problems: they contain plenty of redacted material (and no specific details really) and each had more or less the same purpose (defending the country)

Con's attempts at showing that my evidence is also subjective are absurd. The article I cited was not a study itself-- it merely made references to other external studies, all of which do contain specific examples within them. And the article was *not* written with the purpose of "defending the country"... it was written with the purpose of providing information, as all newspaper articles are. There is simply no way around it-- the newspaper article, with its ample credibility, reputable sources, and lack of motive for fabrication is without a doubt *far* more objective and likely to be accurate than the single, questionable quotation Con has offered. 

Pro does not answer my "hypothetical" reasoning backing up my evidence and contradicting his. He merely calls it a hypothetical and says it means nothing next to his analysis (no further explanation given). We simply don't see that as enough. 

As I said last round, my evidence showing how things *do* work easily trumps Con's reasoning showing how he feels things *should* work, which is really all that he has supported his argument with thus far. And I have already provided hypothetical reasoning of my own in the first round-- suspects can stop the pain just as easily by lying or being unresponsive as they can by telling the truth, so there is no reason to believe that torture will result in obtaining accurate information. 

Pro argues it's more than just asking nicely. It's not.

Con uses a tired, old fallacy, called Reduction-to-the-Ridiculous, in order to make it seem like humane interrogation techniques are nothing more than asking nicely. Such a fallacy is the equivalent of referring to God as a "sky fairy" or referring to supporters of abortion as "baby-killers". In reality, humane interrogation techniques are far more sophisticated than that. Reversing brain-washing is designed to challenge the beliefs which extremists are indoctrinated with (i.e. America is evil, etc.), and invoking fear can involve anything from mock executions of the suspect's loved ones to artificially-induced depersonalization. Even if alternative interrogation techniques really were nothing more than asking nicely, the point is that they *work*-- a point which Con has yet to directly address. 

Sure, it worked for Matthew Alexander. It worked in a few theoretical models the FBI ran, maybe. But torture has worked well for centuries.

Con keeps insisting that torture has worked well for centuries, but he has not provided a *single* example of torture being used to obtain meaningful information in a situation where alternative interrogation techniques couldn't have been used instead. I have provided reliable, scientific evidence for my side of the resolution, while Con has only provided speculation, fallacy, and heavily biased sources; it is clear who is winning this contention. There is no situation in which torture is the best way to save lives.

R4) Ticking time-bomb

Con compares the possibility of torturing innocents to the possibility of sentencing an innocent to the death penalty. And he's right. The possibility of executing an innocent is one of the most-used arguments against allowing the death penalty! With the DP there is *far* more time to carefully consider the case from every angle and closely examine the evidence, and yet so many modern countries still accept the possibility of executing an innocent as a reason to reject the death penalty. It makes no sense to not apply the same reasoning to torture. Con's comparisons to other punishments such as speeding tickets and imprisonment are inapplicable because both of those are reversible punishments, and they do not involve the violation of fundamental human rights like torture and the DP do. Con's comparisons to accidental shootings and self-harm are irrelevant because those aren't government actions. 

Con claims that there are times when torture is the only option, but he doesn't actually provide an example of this being the case. There is simply no realistic scenario in which the police have enough information to know who to torture, but not enough to at least have an idea of what area is going to be bombed; an evacuation is always feasible in a ticking time-bomb scenario. Con's response to my point about alternative interrogation methods relies on his rebuttal to R3, which I have already debunked. As for waterboarding, it is most definitely not psychological-- it clearly involves the infliction of extreme physical suffering upon a suspect, even if it doesn't leave lasting scars; psychological interrogation does not involve inflicting any suffering at all. This contention remains standing: there are always other ways to handle ticking time-bomb scenarios, and since there is a significant possibility of accidentally torturing an innocent (which is an irreversible moral atrocity), the government should always prefer the alternatives.   

R5) Warfare

Con starts off with the bare assertion that people generally support the use of torture in warfare, yet the evidence I provided flatly contradicts that assertion-- the revelation that the US government uses torture so extensively incurred an extremely negative response by both Americans and foreigners alike. Con goes on to claim that because he doesn't think people should be using double standards, the United States' use of torture could not have resulted in the negative outcomes I described. But that is ridiculous; the fact is that people *do* use double standards, and that the United States' use of torture *was* used as a recruitment tool by extremists. Again, Con's ideals of what *should* happen do not match up to what actually *does* happen. 
Con claims that no moderates were radicalized to the US cause by extremists' use of torture, but that is patently false-- a substantial portion of Muslims in the Middle East *have* begun support the US due to their disgust with the brutality of terrorist groups such as ISIS; it works both ways [3]. It is true that the US didn't step up attacks in response to Al Qaeda's torture, but that just shows that the US *does* care about public perception-- by publicly announcing that they would not be intimidated or seek revenge, they were taking the moral high ground, and by using torture themselves, they are jeopardizing that advantage. 

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_of_capital_punishment_by_country

[2] http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/executions-year

[3] http://www.masslive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2015/02/muslim_groups_are_speaking_out.html

Return To Top | Posted:
2015-03-05 13:11:27
| Speak Round
adminadmin (CON)
Criminal Justice
My opponent accuses me of assertions without evidence, but his assertions are no better. What I've done is presented a logical case that the evidence inherently supports neither viewpoint - a correlation may indicate high crime being a response to torture, or else torture being a response to high crime. Political turmoil is also much more strongly correlated to high crime than the use of torture, be that because criminals piss off the people enough to make them have political issues, or because there are political issues and the protesters turn criminal. There is likewise a correlation between prison population and whether countries use the death penalty. The truth is that governments use options like torture and death as options of last resort. Further, we believe they are in fact effective in reducing crime. Against my opponent's not-an-actual-shred of evidence, I now would like to present Saddam Hussein's Iraq, perhaps one of the most recent non-current governments to employ torture. While the government was far from ideal (which in this case was probably the biggest reason for the high crime), we should recognize that in the current, torture-less Iraq, with a different controversial government, violence crimes run rampant. Hundreds of thousands have died. Crime has not been in any way reduced - in fact the life expectancy in Iraq has fallen dramatically since the invasion. Iraq is an extreme case because their torture is very well documented. In reality though, as I said last round, we're talking about hundreds of countries.

We don't see the effect with the death penalty that my opponent described, and people in China or the USA are significantly more afraid of committing extreme crimes because of it. Studies show that each person killed deters around seven others. While torture can perhaps not boast quite the same record due to UN conventions, it remains a sufficiently open secret in many countries to give it that deterrent impact.

It is not true that torture needs to be a likely outcome of crime. As I said, torture is a sentence of last resort. However, torture would need to be frequently employed at least for serious crimes, such as homicide. That way people are deterred from those crimes and towards others that police can handle easier, creating a deterrence overall as police can have a greater impact. This is in fact what regularly happens. No country tortures people for jaywalking, light littering, or stepping on grass despite a clearly marked "keep off the grass" sign, and yet my logic is still able to hold so long as people fear torture at least for some crimes.

My opponent's conception of a right as being inherently inviolable is flatly incorrect. A right is a general rule with exceptional limits. You may recall my example of free movement from the last round. We also don't see the problem with a non-objective ethical framework for the debate, unless pro wants to prove (as opposed to assert) that ethics are objective. Given that ethics are not, we feel that commonly held ethical principles are exactly what should drive this discussion, unless of course pro proves beyond any doubt that an uncommonly held ethical idea must be true, which he hasn't.

Let's look at his justification, something I call Kofi Annan logic (because that's who basically was the first to point this out), but which I suppose would be accurately called circular reasoning. Because you're a person, you have rights. More correctly, there exists a right to be a person, an inversion of the statement, which is the right to life. Reversing it does not make it more true. That doesn't mean the right is inviolable, because one may cease to be a person, for example, if one dies. In that case, the right to life also ceases. Other than that, no right is intrinsically tied to human life, least of all the right to be free from torture. Nature itself is torturous on the human body. Life is torturous in a certain light. And the right to life can be reasonably limited while still maintaining the general right. Euthanasia, abortion and war are all examples of times when the right can be legally restricted. There is no justification behind the principle that non-objective human rights cannot exist.

Pro argues that life without autonomy is meaningless, but that's him imposing his subjective values on the debate. Many who believe in predestination, for example, also reject autonomy, but accept meaning in their lives. The fact that pro has no moral qualms killing bacteria only supports my case that the right to life is not absolute, and has exceptions - quite big ones in this case. Even assuming though that humans are the only autonomous creatures and that autonomy is required for ethical significance, itself an outrageous ethical claim for anyone who believes in animal rights (as I do), the right to autonomy would still be trumped by the right to life, because without life there would be no people and thus no autonomy. Life must be protected first. We place such reasonable restrictions on personal autonomy in the name of protecting lives all the time - the fact I cannot ethically leave a train while it is moving is still relevant here.

My opponent has dropped the claim that torture is ineffective in every case, but argues other options may always be more effective. I look forward to reading why that is necessarily the case.

I could have found torture reports from the 50s that support my position. Instead I chose something from the late 00s. I chose a current, relevant example for this debate. With the idea that there would be at least one older example that wouldn't endanger national security, it's actually quite a thing for pro to be basing their entire case on. It can be rebutted, in that while the wars were winding down, the CIA was not. The CIA probably would still use the same techniques because they work well. In fact if there were examples that would mean the CIA has found better techniques, which rebuts my case, but torture is still the most effective tool that the most advanced agency of its kind, the CIA, knows about. It's ok if my opponent doesn't trust the integrity of the man appointed to one of the most heavily vetted job positions on the planet, but his statements remain consistent with the idea that torture works. Ultimately if it didn't, he'd have had no reason not to abandon the policy and switch to something that actually does, since he wouldn't have to publicly accept that mistake, since nobody knows what the hell the CIA gets up to anyway.

The "specific examples" pro refers to are either first hand accounts, or meta analysis of first hand accounts. In other words - subjective. Further to claim that every newspaper article ever written is totally objective is even more absurd. I suppose pro has never read editorials. The difference is that:
  • The CIA director was credible in talking about torture because he led the organization that did it. There is literally no person more qualified to talk about torture.
  • His sources were reputable. One would better expect the CIA director to know about torture in his secret organization than a journalists interpretation of some loose subjective observational studies.
  • If the CIA director can have some mysterious secret agenda for fabrication (little sense though pro's hypothesis does make - if he's outgoing he doesn't have a job to protect) then so too can some random journalist have a secret agenda for fabrication.

Pro basically admits at this point that my evidence concerning how things should logically work is faultless. In practical cases, externalities corrupt the results. All else being equal, however, this means that torture is an effective policy. A practical argument does not inherently trump a principled argument, but the other way around. I rebutted my opponent's logical counter material in depth in the first round as well - simply repeating again that he said it isn't going to beat my existing analysis.

Asking nicely is not inherently ridiculous. I ask nicely for a lot of things - for example, if I felt like taking a photo of somebody, I would ask nicely. Pro has to show how his "sophisticated techniques" amount to more than asking nicely, because that's exactly what they are. When pro says "reversing brainwashing" what he means is "asking nicely, as opposed to what they have been brainwashed into thinking you will do". Matthew Alexander never intended to reverse any brainwashing and if you read his book, he was surprised about it. He never thought asking nicely could be so powerful. That doesn't change the fact that it's still just asking nicely. Saying the fact that I haven't addressed their effectiveness at all is stupid at this point. I did it in round one.

I'd like to address invoking fear. Most techniques of this kind are physiological. Waterboarding is one example - it doesn't actually damage you in any way, but tricks you into thinking that you're drowning. Artificially induced depersonalization is usually achieved by a combination of isolation and sensory deprivation, severely inhibiting the normal function of the brain. And so on. These kind of things qualify as torture under every definition - the Euro, the UN, basically every convention on torture has agreed that techniques like waterboarding or sensory deprivation ARE torture. I agree that these things can be effective, and I don't want this debate to descend into semantics, but it sounds like what my opponent is really advocating is non-violent torture as opposed to no torture. You can't tell me that psychological tricks like waterboarding causes extreme physical suffering even though it's all illusionary, while psychological tricks like mock executions do not. People physically hurt when a loved one dies, and THAT'S why people come to fear it, much like they fear all torture.

As for there being no situations where alternative interrogation could have been used, sure, I accept that. One could always ask nicely instead of torture. What is not known is whether it would have the same outcome. I've shown before that people respond to asking nicely differently, so I'm sure it wouldn't. Our world today is a world rife with torture, but one that enjoys more peace than ever before in human history. 

Ticking time bomb
Of course nobody wants innocents killed or hurt, but that can happen with ANY criminal justice. Torture is BETTER than the death penalty because it can be apologized for later. The same reasoning could be applied to ANY crime - there's no point in having any law if you're willing to accept the possibility of a false conviction. On the con side we think the rule of law is a great thing that actually helps our society to function well. There's also no reason why this couldn't be extended beyond government actions, and unless pro justifies this further, we can only assume that that's pro's artificial limitation because he holds governments (really just collections of people) to a double standard.

Pro now claims ticking time bombs are not realistic, without providing evidence of that. Even if they're not, it should be permissible to use torture in the hypothetical case that it did happen. This isn't a debate about the norm, but about exceptional cases in which torture might hypothetically be justified. All I need to do is identify one such case to win the debate. As for other ways to handle it, see my previous contention.

I feel like the points on warfare have been sort of addressed in the other rounds. Pro's material here is also nothing new, so since this debate is wrapping up, I kind of tried answering it broadly elsewhere in my case and condense the debate down to the most relevant issues. Just realize that these points I'm making apply in a military as well as in a civil context. In the specific case of Al Qaeda, note my opponent's only source comes from an opinion page. Also, note that even if torture did recruit people to the other side in a war, that doesn't inherently mean torture couldn't save lives overall. It's Kofi Annan logic again but I just wanted to be sure everyone understood that this principle applied here too.

I look forward to the final round.

Return To Top | Posted:
2015-03-12 13:06:46
| Speak Round

View As PDF

Enjoyed this debate? Please share it!

You need to be logged in to be able to comment
True. Thanks for the debate while it lasted.
Posted 2015-03-21 20:00:44
well.... it was a good debate up until then
Posted 2015-03-21 11:25:05
noooooo :(

I mis-estimated how much time I had left to post :/

Posted 2015-03-21 11:24:39
:( Romanii! What happened?
Posted 2015-03-19 20:58:47
It's ok. There are other rounds you can use. :)
Posted 2015-02-12 16:34:19
hmmm, in retrospect, I didn't do a very good job of articulating my moral case against torture...
Posted 2015-02-12 15:01:29
The judging period on this debate is over

Previous Judgments

There are no judgements yet on this debate.

Rules of the debate

  • Text debate
  • Individual debate
  • 4 rounds
  • No length restrictions
  • No reply speeches
  • No cross-examination
  • Community Judging Standard (notes)
  • Forfeiting rounds means forfeiting the debate
  • Images allowed
  • HTML formatting allowed
  • Unrated debate
  • Time to post: 1 week
  • Time to vote: 3 days
  • Time to prepare: None
This is a random challenge. See the general rules for random challenges at http://www.edeb8.com/resources/General+rules+for+random+debates+%28version+2%29