Thursday, March 24, 2011

Do the Ends Justify the Means in Torture?

After watching the short documentary on Abu Ghraib I became curious about the psychology of the torturers. I stumbled across the article “The Psychology of Torture: Past Incidents Show Abusers Think Ends Justify the Means,” which I found on the Washington Post website. The article attempted to explain why people who tortured at places like Abu Ghraib did not feel as if what they were doing were violating human rights. The post explained that, “Torturers usually believe they are carrying out the will of their societies -- and feel betrayed when the public professes outrage after the abuses come to light, said a range of historians, activists and psychologists.” I think the Post raises a point that the soldiers might have thought they were doing their duty for the country and instead of questioning the methods they were told to inflict on the people, they did them and adjusted to their assigned “duty,” for the “good of the country.”

The Post claims that, “Human rights activists said such arguments stand on a slippery slope: Once captors are given license to torture, the abuse of large numbers of prisoners usually becomes standard operating procedure.” However, with this point, the Post raises another position that reflects how Americans react to torture. The Post acknowledges that Americans were shocked about the reports from Baghdad, yet in a poll taken in October 2001, 45 percent of Americans claimed they were willing to use torture, “if it were necessary to combat terrorism.” Although the poll was taken with the support of “hypothetical scenarios in which a terrorist had knowledge about an attack planned on the United States,” Americans still thought torture would be an acceptable method to extract information to help the greater good. Although the Americans in this case seem to use a Utilitarian position to justify their logic to torture terrorists, do the ends justify the means in torture? The Post says, “The U.S. troops who abused Iraqis at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad were most likely not pathological sadists but ordinary people who felt they were doing the dirty work needed to win the war, experts in the history and psychology of torture say.” I am by no means trying to rationalize the behavior performed in Abu Ghraib prison (actually I was quite mortified by the video), but I want to ask the class where do you think psychology comes into play with torture? In what situations would torture be acceptable? Is the utilitarian approach the only approach to rationalize the abuse of others to gain information? Ultimately, do the ends justify the means in torture?

I encourage you all to look at the article, it isn’t too long but it is interesting!

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