Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tortorous Options

Hadi's captives were far more stronger and stubborn than he had expected. But he was bent on breaking their resolve, if only he could follow through on his threats to them. The father, Brad, was the real villain. It was he who had maliciously planted a bomb in the middle of a populated city, promising to kill thousands of innocent civilians. Only Brad knew where the bomb was planted and how it would detonate. His son, Jim, had no connection with this scheme and knew nothing about it. Hadi's trained intelligence told him that Brad would hardly utter a word if he were to be tortured...although he suspected him to break, if he were to see his son, Jim, being tortured in front of him. This is where Hadi's dilemma arises. Being a proponent of anti-torture, he was torn with the options available. The dilemma made it even more hard on Hadi, for Jim was innocent and any torture inflicted on him would be grossly immoral. Unfortunately, if this option wasn't exercised thousands of civilians would soon lose their lives. Hadi's moral courage was being tested. (Source: The Pig that wants to be Eaten, Julian Baggini)

I put off analyzing this dilemma for a while, because I was growing a little weary of the theme of right versus right. But my main impetus for discussion is to understand the reasoning behind different people's perceptions of right and wrong. Such views add multiple dimensions to the scenario and guide rationality into different avenues never ventured before. So I'm back again with the theme of moral dilemmas.

The above scenario is such a classic model to test the Utilitarian Theory of moral evaluation - "The greatest good to the greatest number". We've heard such rhetoric on sacrificing one to save millions. And this is a classic case for such a statement. I'm reminded of another question we used to be asked while young -- "Imagine there is going to be a nuclear holocaust, which can be averted (magically) by killing one person. Would you kill that one person to save humanity?"

In this case, the person is not killed, but "merely" abused physically and mentally. Does torture therefore get justified to some degree? Previous discussions weighed the dilemma of one's survival versus morality. But this one goes a step further and puts the responsibility of saving thousands of civilians on Hadi, with a very difficult and immoral option left to exercise. Hadi need not worry about saving himself -- it's his integrity versus thousands of families.

Rules and laws never work in all circumstances; to a large extent it's important to follow the spirit of the rule, rather than the letter. Therefore there is no denying that in this particular case, the mere contemplation of torture is inevitable and to some extent is justified. If we hypothesized that Hadi did go ahead with torturing Jim, such an exceptional case of justified torture can turn into a universal rule of exception by itself and may be exploited; especially when in the present world, prisoner abuse and torture are being grossly exploited and taken to inhumane levels. Soon enough thousands of innocent people who are not even suspected of criminal offense maybe tortured under seemingly analogous circumstances. It may not be a wonder if sons and daughters of alleged criminals get dragged to the police quarters to be tortured to gain knowledge of gang leaders and stolen jewels. I know stolen jewels versus thousands murdered is not the same equation. But it just doesn't sound "right" to justify this crime under the clause of an exceptional circumstance, whose consequences are much dire than lost jewels.

I wish I knew a little about criminal psychology and intelligent manipulations. Surely, there should be some other manipulation strategy that might work, rather than resort to torture. But I don't have much insights and no such training. All I could think of was to manipulate the son and make him cooperate by pretending as if he were being tortured, while in reality he was not. Hadi can threaten Jim that he had two options - 1) watch his father being cruelly tortured to get the truth out of him, or 2) cooperate with Hadi and pretend as if he were being tortured so that his father will tell the truth and also be saved from a grueling sentence from the court. The sort of deals lawyers present by asking the criminal to plead guilty or cooperate in exchange for reduced sentence. If Jim agrees, he can be asked to pretend being in pain while fake electric shocks were administered? I don't want to get into more details on how to put on a fake-torture act and turn this into a squeamish post, but that's my general line of thinking.

I know, in a way I have averted from dealing with the problem head on. What if Jim flat out refuses to cooperate? I don't know. In the worst case maybe Hadi, in view of his high moral integrity can make the court arrest him with charges of torture on an innocent civilian, if he does resort to that option in a dire attempt to save lives. His arrest will then continue to serve as a reminder that torture was being condemned despite being used at such a tough circumstance. He could also "tone down" on the extent of torture techniques employed. However, I still would argue to find other means of manipulation and extend on the fake-torture theory I presented.


SecondSight said...

Fake torture was the first thing that came to my mind as well :) If Jim refuses to cooperate, it would incriminate him as well, so then actually torturing him might be justifiable... :)

Neeraja said...

SecondSight - I think it brings us to the question of whether torture by principle is right or wrong, regardless of whether the person is guilty of crime.

Despite all the humanitarian values and arguments, I do find myself justifying torture in the case of such hardened criminals who so callously disregard how their actions cruelly affect thousands of innocent people. Yet, sadly there are tons of innocent people with allegations who are put through such horrendous ordeals. Maybe there should be very specific rules on "how much" and to what extent/ways torture can be extended to. As usual, moderation is the only answer to this...