The torture debate has started up again. In the new World of Warcraft expansion Wrath of the Lich King there is a quests called “the art of persuasion.” This quest involves the torture of a captive through the use of a device called the neural needler.
This of course has stirred up all sorts of controversy, with those for and against torture doing battle again. I do not wish to talk about the controversy or the morality of including such a quest in a game. I do wish to make an attempt to explain why torture is not only bad, but in some ways counter-productive.
The most popular argument put forward by torture proponents is the ticking time bomb scenario. Terrorists have placed a bomb somewhere in a crowded city. The ‘good’ guys have captured one of them. They think he knows where the bomb is planted. He says that he knows nothing about it. The answer is of course to torture the information out of him.
Many people would say that torture is okay in that scenario – one person is sacrificed to save hundreds.
Most people will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid pain. The threat of torture would be enough for most people to crack and reveal everything they know. But just imagine that you are the one being tortured. Wouldn’t you say anything to get out of that room, to make them stop? Rationality would be the first thing to leave your mind. Your goal would not be to tell the truth it would be for the torture to stop.
The person doing the torture would not know when you are telling the truth. The interrogators would have an idea of the information they wish to obtain from you. And you would no doubt have an image of the information they want. What if the truth is something that the torturers do not wish to hear? Maybe there is no bomb and maybe it is a hoax. What do you think they would do if you told your interrogators this fact? Or if there were multiple bombs and you don’t know where they all are.
What if you are innocent?
An innocent captive has a lot more to fear from torture as they have no truth to reveal.
The thing that devalues torture the most is when you look at the big picture. When people are tortured we give the terrorists a gift. They can point to the West and say: “look how evil they are. They talk about the rule of law about human rights and then completely ignore them.” Those who were on the borderline of supporting the terrorists are now able to support them wholeheartedly. It becomes a recruitment tool creating more terrorists.
Even if the torture of one person saves lives, in the long run it will kill many more.