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Point/Counterpoint: Torture or necessity?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sometimes Evening Sun reporters just like to argue. The sides in the argument chosen for this feature were chosen arbitrarily; they do not necessarily represent the author’s true beliefs. This week, Tyler Murphy and Jeff Genung discuss the Bush administration’s views on interrogating and prosecuting terror suspects.

Torture is an acceptable means of acquiring information as long as the practice is highly scrutinized with an overwatch group or a judicial system; it can be utilized to benefit this country. The only true argument against torture is that it may be abused and inflicted upon people arbitrarily. Anyone making the argument for torture believes the end justifies the means. Torture in the sense of fighting terrorism is not to establish a confession or to be used as a cruel punishment. The point of torture is to acquire information that can save innocent lives. It is the ticking time-bomb scenario. Look at it like this: you have a suspect with the blood on his hands, the bomb is ticking, he refuses to talk and conventional interrogation techniques will take too long. In this all too common dilemma you have two choices, make him talk or don’t make him talk – one man suffers and many may live; one man doesn’t suffer and many will die. – TDM

It’s a sad commentary on our state of affairs that the abject torture of another human being is a matter of public debate. The man with the bomb strapped to his chest in your scenario is not only willing to die for his cause, he wants to die for his cause. It’s precisely that blind devotion to a higher power or socio-political belief that makes torture utterly useless. The Spanish Inquisition is a few centuries behind us. Surely in the 21st century we have far more effective techniques for gathering intelligence than putting the beat-down on our fellow man. – JMG

Either one believes torture is never acceptable or one believes that there are reasons for it. Even if you believe those reasons to be extreme and remote, once you have opened the door to the notion it becomes a matter of opinion as to what ends become justifiable and which do not; and who decides the limits? If you can imagine any situation where torture may become a possibility, you’ve already lost the argument. Saying you don’t believe in physical interrogation is like saying turn the other cheek – so we might as well begin dismantling our armies and defenses. The path of pacifist is an admirable one, but a futile one in terms of governments and nations. Many people find the idea of extreme prisoner interrogations wrong and unbearable to think about because I think most people themselves fear the thought of being tortured. But imagine you being the victim caught in the explosion, imagine your family being blown apart by shrapnel. Fundamental extremists have their strength in suicidal devotion, but dying for one’s cause can be easy ... let’s see them try sitting in a chair with hot needles in their fingernails and then see if they don’t start naming their co-conspirators. – TDM

Good lord, I don’t even know where to start with that one, Young Republican. While I won’t shy away from the notion that the path to peace is always the preferred route, war is an unfortunate reality in a world of varying cultures who make no attempt to understand each other. That said, “torture” as a means of interrogation and gathering information does, sadly, have its place in times of war. You ask who decides the limits? That’s already been decided. It’s called the Geneva Convention, perhaps the greatest written-word accord since the Declaration of Independence itself. Following the rules and guidelines of the Geneva Convention is what has separated us from savage nations for decades. To play fast and loose with those interpretations now signals the end of America’s status as a superpower that respects – and upholds – international law. – JMG

These are not the dark ages. Religious organizations hunting witches and demons have nothing in common with a democracy trying to save lives, not end them. For the last 300 years, cultures of all kinds have gotten along fine in America. We wish to understand other cultures, but any fundamentalism by definition is intolerant towards other cultures. Long ago the world had its separate laws apart from American beliefs. Simply because the world doesn’t agree with us now or because it means changing a status quo doesn’t necessarily signify a lapse in logic. Our methods may be violent, but they are not savage. We have medical personnel, judicial orders and oversights. We exercise every alternative option in lieu of torture. Professionals are trained to inflict pain and avoid bodily harm. There is nothing wrong with well-monitored, carefully planned and administered torture provided it is used as a last resort. If we do not accept this, there will come a day we will all wish we had done a little evil in order to save the greater good. – TDM

Our methods aren’t savage? I bet former inhabitants of a little resort known as Abu Ghraib might disagree with that assertion. I wish I had enough confidence in the upper echelons of our armed forces to believe that those were isolated incidents. No matter how clinical or procedural the practices have become, it’s still torture. And it’s an ugly word. You’re right in that the world doesn’t agree with us now – and for good reason. Our “coalition of the willing” quickly devolved into an “army of one” when it became apparent that our motives in the war on terror were suspect at best. Combine that with a flagrant disregard by this administration to abide by the conduct of civilized man and ... well, let’s just say I for one am thankful for term limits. – JMG

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