Contemplating the Moral Permissibility of Torture
This paper is an evaluation of a work by Henry Shue in which he writes about torture. Shue points out that while torture is a violation of most international law, it continues to be used extensively throughout the world and that its use may actually be on the rise. Governments are in effect “talking the talk” in their condemnation of torture but the reality is that they are not “walking the walk” as they institute the use of torture for various means of self preservation.
Shue’s primary goal seems to be to show that torture is a special entity that is far worse than even death because it is an assault against the defenseless. Shue does not necessarily attempt to show that torture is never justified. In fact, he admits that he “can see no way to deny the permissibility of torture in a case just like this” (Shue, pg 141) as he portrays a scenario involving the destruction of the city of Paris and most of its population. Its fate hangs in the balance and can be potentially avoided by the torturing an individual confirmed to have planted a nuclear weapon within its confines to ascertain its whereabouts.
In his explanation of why torture is morally reprehensible Shue discusses the laws of war which exist that determine what he calls the “proper conduct of the killing of other people” (Shue, pg 127). He explains that a basic principle is the distinction between combatants and noncombatants. His suggestion is that this distinction serves the purpose of keeping war humane because it delineates those capable of defending themselves from those that could be argued to be defenseless.
This leads to the question of whether or not there exists a scenario where torture is not considered an assault on the defenseless. Shue hones in specifically on interrogational torture, the act of inflicting excruciating pain upon an individual in order to gain some sort of information. He lays out the idea...