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Ontorturefirstdraft

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Ontorturefirstdraft

  1. 1. Torture, Evil indeed Ethics, Law and Society Briane Chanelle Knight 12-15-2008 The tortuous actions of pulling out entrails, partial or total sensory deprivation and repeated simulations of drowning for prolonged periods of time seem to constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Nevertheless, some purport that torture is an evil necessity.1 In “What’s Wrong with Torture?,” David Sussman suggests that while torture may not constitute an absolute moral wrong, the act of torture is not easily justified. Sussman suggests that the very nature of torture makes it distinctive in that the act is detrimental to the autonomy, and most importantly, the dignity of the victim. He states that torture “bears an especially high burden of justification, greater in degree and different in kind from even that of killing.”2 Thus, the harm to the victim’s dignity coupled with the intentional infliction of pain, Sussman adds, is unmatched and thus morally special. In evaluating arguments against torture, Sussman suggests that both Utilitarian and Kantian approaches regarding the ethics of torture are incomplete in that they fail to fully account for all the certain distinctive aspects of torture. Without very much difficulty, one could concede that Sussman’s claims against Utilitarianism, in regards to the importance of pain are insufficient. Sussman, however, overstates his claim when he suggests that the Kantian approach is incomplete because “it only provides a case against torture on the grounds that torture uses an individual a means” (6). His argument against Kantianism is too focused on the victim’s experience of pain. In addition, his overemphasis on the pain of the victim is not necessary to the conclusion that torture is morally special: a distinctive civil and criminal assault against humanity that we ought not to commit. This essay will focus on how the Kantian approach does not fail to highlight the moral limits of torture.
  2. 2. Sussman’s argument is too focused on the victim’s experience of pain; this is a staple of his argument wherein he concludes Kantian approach is incomplete. I am not considering whether or specific types of torture or more egregious than others. Nor will I discuss whether or not there are specific circumstances for which torture would be seen as permissible, necessary and/or or justified. I will primarily focus on explaining what factors or elements of torture, regardless of the circumstance, are morally special and distinctive. Sussman’s Kantian approach to Torture Sussman suggests that the Kantian moral theory approach is most apt to explain the moral significance of torture wherein Kantians argue that torture is adverse to the humanity and the autonomy of the victim. He purports that unlike Kantianism, Utilitarianism is not sufficient in addressing the moral significance of torture. Utilitarianism, he suggests, has no particular special focus on the badness of harm; no focus on the fact that torture “hurts.”3 For Sussman, the special moral significance of torture stems from the distinctive structure of the torturer-victim relationship that he suggests is intrinsically objectionable and not just bad because of its effects. One could, however, argue that the effects of torture (harm) are sufficient to make torture intrinsically objectionable. Given the harmful effects torture has on those who torture and also those who are tortured (not equally), it may seem like such inhumane interpersonal relationships are morally objectionable. Yet, his contentions are not focused on a mere moral objection to torture. He suggests that a focus on harm are not distinctively a focus on torture; the effects of harm are characteristic of warfare and aerial bombardment and thus is not specific to the moral categorical condemnation of torture.4 Nevertheless, Sussman suggests that the Kantian approach is incomplete because it only entails objecting to torture on the grounds that the act uses an individual as a means.; he states, “For the orthodox Kantian, what is fundamentally objectionable
  3. 3. about torture is that the victim, and the victim’s agency, is put to use in ways to which she does not or could not reasonably consent.”5 Sussman suggests that like Utilitarianism, what Kantian moral theory fails to include, which is essential to the special moral wrongness of torture, is the interpersonal structure of torture and its impact on the dignity of an individual. He claims that the Kantian approach is incomplete in that torture unjustifiably undermines more than just one’s rational self-governance. Moreover, he suggests that there is a significant moral difference between use of an individual as means as compared to one being used “through one’s own distressing affects and bodily responses.”6 He claims that the moral significance of torture is that in addition to disrespecting one’s dignity, torture turns one’s dignity against itself. Furthermore, Sussman describes the effects on the victim of torture as one in which the victim, even though powerless and/or defenseless, is forced to be complicit in their own torture. Thus, pain plays a significant role in that it is not able to be ordered or commanded, which leaves the victim passive to their own physical pain and not constrained nor controlled by rational judgment. He describes this painful experience as one of self-betrayal when it is the case that one’s dignity is detrimental to their self-dignity. Special moral significance of torture? An essential element of torture is the felt experience of pain, fear and uncertainty-an element that Sussman suggests is not necessarily what could potentially make torture morally significant. He argues that torture, specifically, entails a social setting and relationship between the torturer and the victim. This social setting is characterized by the victim’s realization of their powerlessness, dependency and vulnerability due to their confinement; Sussman states that the
  4. 4. victim “must see herself as being unable to put up any real moral or legal resistance to her tormentor.”7 His comment on a victim’s lack of inability to utilize “moral and legal resistance” serves as a way to create an association between the moral significance of torture with the moral significance of rape. One can give Sussman the benefit of a doubt in assuming that he means to suggest that the victim must see herself as being unable to put up a successful resistance, morally or legally, at the time of confinement. It would be problematic if Sussman were to suggest otherwise since there would be no reason to believe that it is necessary for the victim to perceive themselves as incapable, even after the fact, of putting up moral or legal resistance to their tormentor. If Sussman is suggesting this, then maybe he is alluding to the possibility that it is not possible for the damage done to the victim to be proportional to any damage that could be done to the perpetrator. If my contentions are true, this begs the question of how significant the role of autonomy, self-governance and dignity is in regards to the moral significance of torture. Sussman’s belief that torture as an attack on agency could still hold without a particular focus on the harm to the victim’s dignity. In regards to Sussman analogy of torture and rape, even though it is true that the social setting and relationships between a perpetrator and a victim are similar in both rape and torture cases, there is a relevant distinction that needs to be made. If one is going to discuss what makes torture an absolute moral wrong, then it seems more wise to focus intensely on the social setting. The social setting and relationship in a case of torture is distinct primarily in the fact that the setting would definitely require some acts and behavior of the torturer that are significantly distinct from what an act of rape would require of the rapist. These requirements I will elaborate on later in conjunction with what is specifically required of one who is captive and being tortured. The politics of Pain
  5. 5. I will concede that pain includes, as Sussman suggests, an experience that is in and outside of one’s self and also that pain motivates one’s agency. There is, however, no reason to believe that pain motivates one’s agency in any declarative way, other than an initial imperative- like call for a relief from one’s pain. Thus, it seems that Sussman overstates his claims about what pain intrinsically motivates an agent to do when he suggests that “What the torturer does is to take his victim’s pain, and through it his body, and make it begin to express the torturer’s will.”8 Granted, the victim’s pain is probably consistent with what the torturer desires the victim to feel especially in regards to interrogational torture and torture as corporal punishment. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the will of the torturer includes more than just a desire for the victim to feel pain. I am not claiming that there exist aims of the torturer that are more important than inflicting pain; I am suggesting that there are other aims. These other aims, especially for interrogational torture, include acquiring confessions or other information considered pertinent. The torturer hopes that the deliberate infliction of pain will lead to the victim to divulge the information that he demands regardless of whether that information is credible or not. Specifically for interrogational torture, the accuracy or credibility of information can be difficult to verify because the information is not entirely pertinent or is applicable only to possible future incidents or incidents that have already passed. The coercive power of relief I agree with Sussman when he suggests that pain “pleads a case or provides an excuse for giving in.”9 While pleading can be extremely coercive, as Sussman suggests, not all torture is coercion. Moreover, it does not seem to be the case that pain internally motivates one to, specifically, divulge pertinent information. Pain from torture does cause one to suffer from their actions. For both the innocent torture victim and the individual who does have access to the
  6. 6. knowledge that the torturer desires, relief is contingent on their responses to their torturer. Pain leads to a confession of suffering (EXPAND-whats wrong with this). But it does not lead to a confession of anything and everything the victim may desire not to express. Thus, I don’t think it is fair to claim that one is experiencing or perceives one’s own actions as a form of self-betrayal by going against their body and feelings. To be more specific, while torture is definitely an attack on one’s dignity, I don’t think that the attack of torture necessarily stems from an internal betrayal. Moral Significance of Torture Sussman overstates his claim in order to advance his argument that torture is completely detrimental to one’s dignity. He suggests that the effects of torture stem from within, wherein there is a part of the victim that is a “surrogate of the torturer.” He further asserts that the surrogate does more than advance a particular demand for the desired information or confession; he purports that the surrogate demands complete submission. But one should be highly skeptical, specifically, about Sussman’s use of universal signifiers and his statements on the effect of the torturer-victim relationship when he states the following: Rather, the victim’s whole perspective is given over to that surrogate, to the extent that the only thing that matters to her is pleasing this other person, who appears infinitely distant, important, inscrutable, powerful, and free. The will of the torturer is thus cast as something like the source of all value in his victim’s world, a unique object of fascination from which the victim cannot hope to free himself. The torturer thereby makes himself into a kind of perverted God and forces his victim into a grotesque parody of love and adoration (my emphasis). 10
  7. 7. Here, Sussman’s analysis is too narrow in that it presupposes that the victim’s perspective is completely dominated by the influence of the torturer. I am not convinced that this is the case for any and all torture cases. Moreover, I would not be convinced that what he describes is sufficient to satisfy the moral significance that, intuitively, is ascribed to torture. I am not suggesting that attacks on one’s dignity do not have a significant role in the perverse nature of torture. I am solely stating that he overemphasizes the role of dignity to the detriment of his focus on the dependency, powerlessness and vulnerability created by the interpersonal relationship of the torturer and the victim. I highly disagree, specifically, with his following claim: “The will of torturer is thus cast as something like the source of all value in his victim…a unique object of fascination.” Again, I think it is false to think that the will of the torturer dominates the entire perspective of the victim. It is the social setting between the captor and the captive that necessarily dominates the perspective of the victim, but in a way that is slightly distinct from what Sussman describes. Torture not completely adverse to agency Intuition would lead one to believe that part of the victim’s perspective is given over to that of what Sussman’s describes as the “surrogate.” The other part of both the victim’s perspective and the victim’s values remain focused on the will of the victim; they remain focused on relief from pain and freedom. Why is this so? Intuitively, regardless of whether the individual is a self-defined terrorist, possible but unconfirmed subject (innocent) or enemy combatant, nobody is going to agree to be confined or tortured. Moreover, nobody is going to initially take up the will of the torturer (give in) without the creation of ulterior motives or strategies of relief and/or escape. Granted, one could argue that torture may break one’s will so that the individual is
  8. 8. completely complicit in their own torture; that would be an ordeal, as Sussman suggests, which I will address in a later passage. But for those who posses any desire to be free from torture of free from pain, the torturer’s will is valuable in that it provides potential ways to escape for the victim. Nevertheless, regardless of who the person is, no rational being wants to be tortured. Individuals may desire pain, but that is not to be confused with a desire for torture. Nor would any rational being acknowledge that the intensity of pain inflicted on their body is warranted or justified. I will concede that some individuals who are in the military or members of terrorist organizations have been trained to resist and endure torture. Nevertheless, even a terrorist of the “ticking-bomb scenario” will desire to escape because, like Sussman suggests, the imperative force of pain is characteristic of the human form. Subjective Tick….Tock… bomb Scenario Imagine this: I am an avid participant in a high-profile terrorist organization. Let’s say, because of my high-ranking, I anticipate that if I am caught, I will be tortured for information regarding a potential attack in London. How could I even begin to comprehend the pain that will be inflicted on me? I am definitely ready to resist by any means necessary; I might be committed to killing myself over giving up any information to my captors. I have even attempted to prepare myself, mentally, for the torture. But nevertheless, intuition tells me that even that preparation will not be sufficient to counteract the actual torture that I will be put through. Everybody can guess what torture could entail. The aim of torture is the deliberate and boundless infliction of pain. The only assumed limitation on interrogational torture would be murder. Every other action that would not directly result in my death is available to my torturer, who has been trained. For example, while being tortured, if I seem to be unaffected or even just enduring the pain that my
  9. 9. torturer is intending to inflict on me (especially if I have yet to confess), one can assume that my torturer will either increase the intensity of harm or try a different and probably more intense form of harm. For example, let’s say that initially I am forced to stand, handcuffed and with my feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours and I am exhausted and sleep deprived. My actions seem to convey a message to my torture. Signs of resistance include silence, a refusal to confess any information or a refusal to say the “right” information. More forms of resistance include claiming that I am innocent, claiming that I should not be tortured or claiming that my pain is unjustified and wrong. I am not divulging anything thus, I am still resistant. It would be logical, according to the perverse aims of torture, for those holding me captive to lower my cell temperature to near 50 degrees and routinely douse my cold, exhausted, sleep deprived, naked body with cold water, as long as this type or treatment was suspected to not typically result in death (according to my captive’s torture manual. I am not insinuating that an actual book exists). Let’s say that the pain was becoming too excruciating to bear. I did not see how anyone could have prepared themselves for this. I started saying that I didn’t know anything and that I just wanted to go home to my family. Those keeping me captive might bind me to an inclined board with my feet raised and my head slightly below my feet and then wrap cellophane over my face and pour water over me. Or my captives might try to use the fact that I miss my family as a way to coerce me into a confession and then move on to the cellophane and the water if I still resisted. Why would either of these be acts of the torture? (WHAT) Especially for interrogational torture, the goal is to get the pertinent information by any means necessary, as long as it does not directly lead to death. Waterboarding would be an obvious and desirable option for the torturer who wants to inflict pain, wherein my inevitable gag reflex to simulated drowning, if anything, would always lead to a plea. 11
  10. 10. My life, in the torturer’s hands There is no reason to believe that my plea consist of a confession of something other than pain. But even for those victims who would rather give up their life than give in, water boarding demands a response; it demands a plea for air, and a sincere plea for one’s life. The plea for one’s life is characteristic of the coercive influence pain has over the body. However, pain does not lead one to give their entire perspective up for the torturer. The social setting of torture and the relationship give substantial reason for the victim to want to please the torturer. This is consistent with Sussman’s description of the relationship as a “grotesque parody of love and adoration.” What torture does is put an individual into a setting wherein their entire environment is capable of being distorted and contorted by another. One would go too far in assuming that one who is captive and being tortured has no desire or ability to control their environment. (If given any object or material, a torture victim would attempt to use this object to the best of their ability in an attempt to sustain, entertain or free themselves). Furthermore, as Sussman suggests, the victim is knowledgeable that any act they can or try to do will almost never be of their own (private). The social setting creates dependency. I think what is necessary to include is that the social setting is highly conducive of expressions of trust. The idea of trust in torture may seem perverse. It is. But the perverseness of trust in this situation, where trust is unfortunately unwarranted and inevitably detrimental to the victim because of what torture entails, is sufficient enough to concede the distinctive nature of torture as an absolute moral wrong. The perverse intra/interpersonal structure of Torture The torture victim is always forced into a situation of optimism and trust. Whether or not they actually genuinely trust their captive or are just mimicking trust is irrelevant because their
  11. 11. torturer will be the only one to decide whether their captive’s trust is genuine or not. Regardless of who the captive is (could be the innocent victim or the terrorist who refuses to talk, or even the individual--terrorist or non-terrorist--who is committed to killing themselves over divulging information), humans believe that the other person is competent in some way; we believe that another competent human being will have some boundaries, some restraint or at least some attribute, characteristic, disposition or virtue that will assist the victim in evading the torturous situation they have been forced into. Sussman addresses the lack of assurance of life and safety when he states that the victim’s “only grounds for such beliefs about her tormentors’ ends and intentions come from how these tormentors choose to present themselves to her.”12 It would not be wrong to assume that the initial presentation of one’s tormentors, while in captivity, is purely pejorative. Thus, there is an initial desire to attempt and escape the deliberate pain that the torturer will inflict. Skeptical? Consider the situation described earlier: the individual who would rather die than be tortured. Trust in the individual who wants to die, while captive, lies in the fact that they hope the torturer will go too far. This individual hopes that the torturer will become reckless in their torture methods as a result of the individual’s resistance. This individual will have the optimistic view that the torturer would be capable of murdering the captive. This individual hopes that the torturer will not attempt to save or alleviate the wounds and pains of the victim. This individual hopes that the torturer will let him/her die. But this will not happen. The act of letting a torture victim die is adverse to the aims of torture, especially interrogational torture. Any torturer who wants a confession from such individual will attempt to sustain the life of this individual even if that person is committed to dying (think of the many cases where individual’s torture victims are force-fed or where the suicide attempts of captives are sabotaged). The main goal of torture is not to kill. Granted, it may seem like corporal torture
  12. 12. intends to kill. But, if the aim is to kill through torture methods, then that is objectionable on the grounds that it is blatant murder: wrongful killing. Or think of the captive who continues to assert that they are innocent. Or consider the individual who falsely confesses. These captives hope that the torture will cease when the torturer either gets what information is desired (even if it is a false confession) or has no more incentive to continue their acts torture (if they are torturing an individual who does not have the information the torturer desires). Thus, torture gives no reason not to attempt and mimic expressions of hope and trust because the captive is entirely vulnerable and open to any possibility that will lead to their freedom13 (unless that possibility entails divulging information they desire to keep private). ticking…ticking…ticking….Ticking Bomb Even if there is information that a captive desires to keep private, this may or may not be the information desired by the captor. Thus, it is not necessarily the case that attempts at freedom will involve self-betrayal. Without trust or hope, or ingenuous trust or hope, there is no rational justification for the victim who is being tortured to believe that divulging even the correct information will inevitably lead to freedom. This might seem contradictory to what I previously stated about trust. It is not. Trust in the torturer serves as a mechanism for self-preservation. There is reason for the victim to trust that the conduct of the torturer can be influenced by expressions of submission and trust. But, especially for interrogational torture, one hopes that they are set free. One would, however, not be wrong in assuming that the victim’s freedom is contingent on the weight of their confession. (It is possible that one may be free from acts of torture but still held captive wherein there is no reason to believe that one will not be subjected to, in the future, more forms of torture.) Consider the “ticking-bomb scenario”: a high-profile terrorist suspected of a potential bombing is captured a month (even days) before the planned
  13. 13. attack. To continue the earlier story, let’s say that I am this terrorist who is tortured on the whereabouts of the bomb and any other preparations for the attack. I confess. I tell them where it’s going to be planted, when, where and what my group is about. Authorities prepare to first try to prevent the planting of the bomb and if they can’t, they will at least know who is attempting to plant the bomb, where it is and when the attack is supposed to happen. Let’s say, in response to the fact that I, the terrorist with information regarding the bomb, am in custody or even just missing, (i.e. my fellow terrorists cannot get in contact with me) the preparations of the attack are changed. Let’s say the terrorist group even changes the location of the attack (for example, from an embassy in Britain to one in France). What happens to me? What is to be done with the terrorist who is held captive? One could conclude that I will be let go since I have already confessed. Nevertheless, it would be obvious to see why this situation would lead to torture as corporal punishment wherein I am confined on the grounds that I am a terrorist who may have knowledge of the identities of other terrorists and other potential acts of terrorism. Final thoughts: the significance of occupying the position of the tormentor To conclude: In her article, “Training Torturers: A Critique of The ‘Ticking Bomb’ Argument,” Jessica Wolfendale poses the question of whether the effects of training required to administer torture are morally wrong; she states that “serious and widespread consequences of training tortures can be justified by the off-chance that a case fitting highly implausible requirements of the ticking bomb scenario will in fact arise.” 14 Those who are soldiers trained to torture are desensitized in order to reduce their empathetic responses to physical suffering. Thus, they have to be able to withstand the pain and brutality they inflict on others. In addition the dehumanizing effect torture has on victims serves to the detriment of a sense of responsibility for the torture. 15 A Chilean ex-torturer described this process as hard; he states the following:
  14. 14. You hide yourself and cry, so nobody can see you. Later on, you don’t cry, you only feel sad…And after…not wanting to…but wanting to, you start getting used to it. Yes, definitely, there comes a moment when you feel noting about what you are doing6 My contention is that torture is boundless; it is entirely perverse. Torture is a situation where the shift from interrogational torture to corporal torture is expected as a result of what torture excessively demands from anyone’s agency. The social setting demand excessive inhumane pain of the victim and also may strategically demands excessive, forms of brutality and inhumane acts from the torturer. Even though harm to both parties is neither equal nor proportionate, both the victim and the torture experience a form of pain that is adverse to one’s agency; this is what is needed to establish torture as an absolute moral wrong. Endnotes 1Miller, Seumas. 2005. “Is Torture Ever Morally Justifiable?” International Journal of Philosophy 19.2: p. 186. 2 Sussman, David. “What’s Wrong with Torture?” Philosophy and Public Affairs, 2005 (Vol. 33. No.1) p. 4 3 Sussman, David. “What’s Wrong with Torture?” Philosophy and Public Affairs, 2005 (Vol. 33. No.1) p. 15 4 Sussman is not referring to torture as a separate category in itself but as morally significant and distinct from other categories like cruelty. 5 Sussman. p. 14 6 Sussman. p. 19 7 Sussman. p. 7 8.Sussman. p. 26 9 Sussman. p. 21 10 Sussman. p. 24. Italics; my emphasis 11 Pogge, Thomas. March 2008. “Making War on Terrorists Reflections on Harming the Innocent.” Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 16, No. 1. p. 20-21 12 Sussman. p. 7 13 Becker, L.C. 1996. “Trust as noncognitive security about motives.” Ethics. 107:p 45-46 14 Wolfendale, Jessica. 2006 “Turning torturers: a critique of the ‘ticking bomb” argument. Social Theory and Practice. 32.2. p. 270 15 Wolfendale. p. 277
  15. 15. 16 Wolfendale. p. 288 Bibliography Becker, L.C. 1996. “Trust as noncognitive security about motives.” Ethics. 107:43-61 Pogge, Thomas. March 2008. “Making War on Terrorists Reflections on Harming the Innocent.” Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 16, No. 1. 1-25 Sussman, David, 2005, “What's Wrong with Torture?”, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 33, 1-33. Wolfendale, Jessica. "Training torturers: a critique of the 'ticking bomb' argument." Social Theory and Practice 32.2 (April 2006): 269(19). Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. Tufts University Library. 12 Dec. 2008

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