Contemporary Issues In Law And Society

Contemporary Issues In Law And Society

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Contemporary Issues In Law And Society

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Contemporary Issues In Law And Society

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The best way to define torture is such practices or actions, where severe pain is inflicted on a person so as to force them to either say something or to get them to do something (Hamm, 2007). When a person is tortured, it is deemed that the human rights of an individual are breached and this is the reason why prohibition on torture is deemed as the bedrock principle under the international laws. Torture is an inhumane degrading treatment which is banned across the globe, which includes even such areas where a war is going on. However dire, no national emergency can justify the use of torture. And yet, a number of nations and the armed groups engage in torture for one or the other purpose. To get information on military or national secrets or to get information on where a particular thing is torture is often used (Human Rights Watch, 2017).
It is natural to assume that torture is a bad thing. When faced with the fear of life and that of extreme pain, the individuals often lie just to be saved from being tortured. Even though torture is neither lawful nor ethical, it is still permitted in certain societies. And this begs the question of whether torture actually gets the right information, apart from being a morally wrong thing. The thesis statement is that torture which is prevalent in some societies should not be allowed as it does not result in truth being told. The questions which would be researched here are whether such torture techniques are necessary? Whether this is the only medium of attaining the right information? And whether allowing such inhumane thing for truth is worth it?
As per one of the articles hosted by Huffington Post, the defence of torture was presented by Sam Harris. He quoted the ticking bomb scenario in order to favour torture of humans, in particular situations. Where a known terrorist plants a bomb, in the very heart of a city and sits before the custody of a person, what would the person do? What should such a human do when the terrorist gloats about the explosion that is coming and which would cause major destruction to everyone in that city. When there is a chance to prevent this imminent threat, by using the techniques of torture and by subjecting the other person to unpleasant and inhumane treatment, would that be deemed as justified? In the debate of ethics of torture, this is deemed as the ticking bomb case. If the reader in the view of Harris (2011) is not moved by the conventional bomb scenario, he states that the same should be replaced by a nuclear bomb than. He emphasized on considering that when terrorists do not care about the thousands of innocents non-combatants and kill them without blinking an eye, why should they be saved and not be tortured? Is there life more valuable in comparison to that of the infant who just came to the world, or the elderly who tackled the difficulties of life, only to die by the hands of a bombing?
Hence, when one can guarantee that so much misery and death can be avoided, then why the terrorists should not be given the rod? The stated that Osama bin Laden should have been tortured, so that hundreds of children had not been slaughtered. He quoted Jonathan Glover, the famous philosopher, where he had stated that when it came to modern war, the most shocking aspect was the poor guide to what is to be deemed as most harmful. He identified the need for an ideal torture pill which would be easily concealed and yet be an instrument to torture, to transit misery and paralysis, which can lead to the terrorist speaking the truth. He stated that the ones, who go against torture, do not seem to comprehend the right kind of torture to get the truth (Harris, 2011).
Similar views were presented by Ekman (2016) where he stated that the Republican candidate recommended the torture of the terrorist suspects. Even though Dick Cheney advocated use of torture, the same was not upheld by the President Obama. Obama always condemned torture as a policy to justify the backward steps. Ekman (2016) rightly highlighted that torture did provide reliable information, which could help in settling the issue. He even examined both the sides to come to his conclusion, i.e., one side which condemns the use of torture and the other which upholds the use of torture. He stated that even when torture was allowed and useful information was attained, it could not be possible to know if that particular information is actually true or is accurate, as the probability always remains that the person would speak anything to avoid torture. He also stated that there was a chance that even when the person was speaking the truth, it latter on becomes false, and this again proves that contorting to techniques of torture is not the right manner of solving a possible situation (Ekman, 2016).
He also questioned upon the harsh interrogation being a success in avoiding attacks like 9/11. He referred to the totalitarian societies of the Soviets and the Nazis, who had no qualms regarding the usage of torture that even these societies were unable to prevent attacks against their civilians and leaders. Same was the case with the methods used by England which were deemed as unlawful by the European Courts and deemed as reprehensible by the Royal Commission, which could not stop the IRA attacks. He stated that no matter how harsh the punishment was used, such attacks could never be completed prevented. And just because it may possibly help, is not a justified reason to abandon the moral foundations of a person (Ekman, 2016).
In one of the reports by BBC, the ticking bomb argument was tested where a poll was conducted in 2006 and people were asked about whether torture which could save lives should be deemed as a justification for the suspects being mistreated. This questionnaire was filled in 25 nations where over 27,000 people were questioned. 59% people, across the globe stated that they deemed torture as wrong and were not willing to compromise on the human rights. The opposition was highest in Italy, with 81% votes against torture. Only 20% though that the governments should be allowed to use some degree of torture in specific situations. However, those nations which were engaged in struggle against political violence supported the use of torture; Israel got 43%, Iraq got 42%, India got 32% votes that where torture could save lives, it should be carried. Though, the poll did show that even in such nations, the view of the majority was against torture (BBC, 2014).
In the backdrop of 9/11, an article published in The Economist questioned on the torture as a justified means of extracting information, particularly when the terrorist hid in civilian population and where information mattered way more in a war against terrorism. And even this report denied the use of torture as a justified means. In order to give this answer, the article cited different international treaties like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Geneva Conventions and also the UN Convention against Torture, which put a strict ban over any sort of degrading, cruel of inhuman treatment and this is true even in cases of war. Apart from genocide, as per this article, was the only crime which required to be punished irrespective of the time and place of committing this crime. The article also highlights the place where line can be drawn when it comes to such torture. Can a person tickled into submission, persuaded to say the truth, or does it require branding the person with red hot irons or maybe beating the individual into a pulp (The Economist, 2007). And also questions on the guarantee of this technique being a success (Jones-Cruise, 2016).
Roth and Worden (2005) questioned the very notion of use of torture, which is given as a justification, particularly in context of the ticking time bomb matter. They discussed the issue from a human rights perspective and stated whether torture can actually make the people feel safe or feel okay. The position of moral absolutism, as had been highlighted by Nye (2005) provides that the people should the right thing only when they are right, instead of analysing or evaluating the results of their acts. This perspective condemns torture as being a practice which was unacceptable and also argues that torture should be banned in absolute as it was against the concept of respecting the human rights. Torture was an unjustified thing based on human rights grounds as it dehumanizes people by manipulating them like pawns through pain. Forsythe (2006) noted that even though the rule of law and support for human rights is upheld by the democratic nations, they do adopt repressive policies when they have a possible threat to the security of the nation. In view of Dershowitz (2004) torture is something which will occur inevitable and thus, there was a need to adopt a more realistic approach so as to emphasize upon accountability, which could help in minimizing the occurrence of torture and also reduce hypocrisy.
However, some scholars adopt the utilitarian argument and criticized the moral perfectionism of the absolutists stating that there was a need for the justice to be done (Levinson, 2004).  Elshtain (2004) stated that there was a far more great guilt which the person with authority has to face when they allow the deaths of thousands of innocent people, instead of opting for torture of a person who is complicit or guilty. Bowden (2003) and Posner (2004) stated that in order to effectively deal with the threats which are posed on the national security and for saving innocent lives, there was a need to sacrifice the needs of some; and so, it was justified to contort to torture to obtain key information from the enemy soldiers in order to prevent future attacks. This viewpoint lines up with the ticking bomb case. Green (2005) cited the example of TV show 24 to show how audience perceives it as okay when the hero tortures the terrorist to get certain information. John Stuart Mill, who was a famous philosopher, supported the Utilitarianism viewpoint. He believed that in order to for the greater good, the torture of some was justified. Dershowitz (2004) cited Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian philosopher as a proponent of torture. Peter Singer, who is deemed as the most controversial philosopher till date, supported the notion of torturing the terrorist in order to safeguard and uphold the greater good (Schaler, 2011).
Due to this utilitarian and absolutist position, there is a major uncertainty towards the subject of torture.  The policymakers and the public cannot legitimize the use of torture as it clearly breaches the human rights. And even the public opinion polls have shown that torture should never be used even when it can result in getting some vital information (Thomas & Hirsh, 2005). The moral stigma, which is undeniable and which is associated with torture is the reason why the public prefers not to know the details which are often plausibly denied by the government leaders, in order to shield themselves in a moral and legal manner (Hersh, 2004).
Bowden (2003) has highlighted that the support towards torture stems from the fact that in certain cases, it does help in attaining the desired results, but at the same time, he highlighted that torture does not work always. Carter (2004) highlighted that the information which was attained through torture of the captives led to the successful arrest of Saddam Hussein in the last month of 2003. Though, at the same time, he stated that a huge chunk of literature indicated that coercive interrogations usually extract only unreliable intelligence in way more cases compared to such cases where this information is proved to be of help. Budiansky (2005) highlighted that abusing the prisoners was not a moral or a legal manner of getting information; and also that the same was majorly ineffective. Van Natta (2004) quoted the Army Field Manual where it was stated that the technique which proves to be more effective when dealing with the questioning of prisoners was the direct approach in which the prisoner was asked direct questions with any kind of pressure or coercion. Even though the controversy which surrounds the effectiveness of the torture as a technique continues on, the high number of experts criticizing the use of inhumane techniques vastly undermines the case to adopt torture as a generalized practice to obtain information.
Bagaric and Clarke (2005) highlighted the ethics of use of torture, based on the pro torture argument which is given based on the ticking bomb scenario. They stated that when the person is dealt with such a situation, and when there is not enough time to use some other technique apart from torture, then the ethics deemed it necessary to use torture. Though, the views presented by Bufacchi and Arrigo (2006) pose a problem to this scenario as this scenario is very inaccurate when it comes to reality and is just a bias which is made to favour torture. They also stated that torture has no technique or benchmark, so the evidence which is procured from using such techniques lacks the proper validity. Costanzo and Gerrity (2009) also questioned the possibility that the person, who has been detained, even if a known terrorist, might not actually have the required information to prevent the ticking time bomb situation. And that it may also happen that the information may not be the truth. Thus, there was no way of knowing if this technique was actually of help (Houck et al., 2014).
Advice to Parliament
From the media review and the literature review presented above, one thing becomes very clear, that even though there are a high number of people who favour torture as a technique of interrogation, it continues to be seen as an unethical and an immoral thing used for abstracting information. And based on this analysis, certain recommendations have been drawn for the Parliament of Australia, along with that of the other nations, and even to the key international human right bodies, which are drawn from the analysis conducted above.

The first and foremost requirement for the key institutional bodies and the government is to strengthen the human right laws (Human Rights Watch, 2004). This has to be done in a manner where it explicitly states that torture is something which is illegal, unethical and immoral. So, where an individual is found to be engaged in a torture of another, they would be liable to criminal sentencing.
There is a need for the Parliament to ratify the UN provisions particularly with regards to Human Rights. Also, to present before the UN, the need for the other nations to adopt the policies where they do not use torture as a means to obtain information or for any other purpose for that matter.
There is a strict need for getting the military of the nation under control along with the law enforcement officers and the like, particularly because they are commonly faced with ticking bomb situations. There is a need to adopt the human rights policies by such personnel as they often use torture as a technique to safeguard the greater good.
The entities like the United Nation and its associated bodies need to take strict steps against torture, particularly in war stricken nations, where this technique is commonly used. There is also a need for getting the nations to play a proactive role against torture, but asking the governments of different nations to end any and all sort of torture. This is to take place for not only such nations, which are war stricken, but also for the developed nations like the US, where reports have highlighted that torture is commonly used by the military, to gain/ obtain information from the detainee (Gordon, 2014).
UNCAT, i.e., UN Convention against Torture, has to be given more due then what is given at the present time (Nowak & McArthur, 2008). There is a need for UN to play a proactive role and get the nations to not only ratify UNCAT but also to drawn up legislations, which are in line with this convention.

On the basis of the discussion carried above, it can be concluded that torture is something which is commonly used by different nations to get some or other information from the detainee. Torture, even though illegal and unethical, is justified with the help of ticking bomb scenario and also by using the ethical theory of Utilitarianism where the greater good is always given emphasis. The media review discussed in this portfolio shows that the majority of people, from different nations, believed that torture as a technique should not be used to gain information, even when it can save lives. The reason for this view is that torture is deemed as an inhumane act, which needs to be eradicated from the society. The literature review presented the arguments for both supporting and opposing torture as a technique of getting information. In this regard, the utilitarianism view showcased the scholars supporting torture in order to save the lives of countless innocents. But the other side highlighted that torture does not only prove to be of help. The literature and the media report also presented that the information which shows that torture does not present useful information as people often lie to be saved from further torture. Thus, the thesis statement which was drawn at the beginning of this discussion, that that torture which is prevalent in some societies should not be allowed as it does not result in truth being told, has successfully been established through the media and literature review. Also, the torture techniques should be avoided and the direct techniques of getting information should be used due to the non reliability of torture and it being a technique which is simply not justified.
Bagaric, M. & Clarke, J. (2005). Not enough official torture in the world? The circumstances in which torture is morally justifiable. University of San Francisco Law Review, 39, 581- 616.
BBC. (2014). The ‘ticking bomb’ problem. Retrieved from:
Bowden, M. (2003). The Dark Art of Interrogation. The Atlantic (October), 51-76.
Budiansky, S. (2005). Truth Extraction. The Atlantic (June), 32-34.
Bufacchi, V. & Arrigo, J.M. (2006). Torture, terrorism and the state: A refutation of the tickingbomb argument. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 23(3), 355-373.
Carter, P. (2004). The Road to Abu Ghraib. Retrieved from:
Costanzo, M.A. & Gerrity, E. (2009). The effects and effectiveness of using torture as an interrogation device: Using research to inform the policy debate. Social Issues and Policy Review, 3(1), 179-210
Dershowitz, A. (2004). Tortured Reasoning. In Levinson, S. (ed.) Torture: A Collection. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ekman, P. (2016). Should We Torture Suspected Terrorists?. Retrieved from:
Elshtain, J.B. (2004). Reflection on the Problem of `Dirty Hands’. In Levinson, S. (ed.) Torture: A Collection. New York: Oxford University Press.
Evans, R. (2005). The Ethics of Torture. In: Roth, K., & Worden, M. (eds.) Torture: Does It Make Us Safer? Is It Ever OK? A Human Rights Perspective. New York: The New Press. Retrieved from::
Forsythe, D.P. (2006). United States Policy toward Enemy Detainees in the ‘War on Terrorism’. Human Rights Quarterly, 28(2), 465-491.
Gordon, R. (2014). Does America Still Torture?. Retrieved from:
Green, A. (2005). Normalizing Torture: One Rollicking Hour at a Time. The New York Times (May 22), Section 2, 34.
Hamm, M. S. (2007). ‘High Crimes and Misdemeanors’: George W. Bush and the sins of Abu Ghraib. Crime Media Culture, 3(3), 259- 284.
Harris, S. (2011). In Defense of Torture. Retrieved from:
Hersh, S. (2004). The Gray Zone. How a Secret Pentagon Program Came to Abu Ghraib. Retrieved from:
Houck, S.C., Conway, L.G., & Repke, M.A. (2014). Personal closeness and perceived torture efficacy: If torture will save someone I’m close to, then it must work. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 20(4), 590-592. doi:10.1037/pac0000058
Human Rights Watch. (2004). The Legal Prohibition Against Torture. Retrieved from:
Human Rights Watch. (2017). Torture. Retrieved from:
Jones-Cruise, C. (2016). Should We Torture Suspects for Information?. Retrieved from:
Joseph S.N. (2005.). Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History (5th ed.). New York: Pearson.
Levinson, S. (2004). Interview with Neil Conan, National Public Radio. Retrieved from:
Nowak, M., & McArthur E. (2008). The United Nations Convention Against Torture: A Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Posner, R. (2004). Torture, Terrorism and Interrogation. In Levinson, S. (ed.) Torture: A Collection. New York: Oxford University Press.
Roth, K., & Worden, M. (2005). Torture: Does It Make Us Safer? Is It Ever OK? A Human Rights Perspective. New York: The New Press.
Schaler, J.A. (2011). Peter Singer Under Fire: The Moral Iconoclast Faces His Critics. Illinois: Carus Publishing Company.
The Economist. (2007). Is torture ever justified?. Retrieved from:
Thomas, E., & Hirsh, M. (2005). The Debate Over Torture. Newsweek (November 21), 26- 33.
Van Natta, D. (2004). Interrogation Methods in Iraq Aren’t All Found in Manual. The New York Times (May 7).

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