The Absolute Violation

The Absolute Violation: Why Torture Must Be Prohibited

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Absolute Violation
    Book Description:

    Richard Matthews challenges the increasing acceptability of state-sponsored torture interrogation, repudiating any possible justifications. He confronts its various supporters - ticking time bomb and tragic choice theorists, utilitarians, legal scholars - and draws from philosophy, medicine, psychiatry, survivor and torturer narratives, history, feminism, the experience of working intelligence officials, anthropology, and game theory to illustrate that no moral justification for torture can be supported.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7482-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-30)

    Prior to 11 September 2001 those unfamiliar with human rights work would probably have accepted the commonplace that torture had been eradicated from the civilized world. It was reserved for violent Third World dictatorships and communists, something that “they” do, not “we.” Anyone with a more nuanced knowledge of recent history and politics will be aware that the reality is rather uglier. Even so, there seems to be little awareness of the extent to which modern torture techniques were in fact developed by the most powerful industrialized states. There is also widespread ignorance of the extensive evidence demonstrating the use...

  5. 1 Understanding Torture
    (pp. 31-67)

    So what is torture? I have already noted some logical worries about the concept – that it is vague, for example. Nonetheless, a considerable amount of conceptual, medical, historical, and legal expertise has been devoted to the subject. Consequently, we have excellent resources with which to work.

    To narrow the subject, I want to address an important remark by W.E. Twining (1978, 158). He warns us to be wary of thinking that there is a simple single problem that definitions of torture attempt to capture, noting that it refers in fact to a variety of serious human rights infringements. Too much...

  6. 2 What about the Ticking Bomb?
    (pp. 68-99)

    Prevalent in so much discussion of torture is the ticking-bomb scenario. This thought experiment invokes some catastrophic threat, like the detonation of an atomic bomb or perhaps the release of weaponized anthrax or a similar weapon of mass destruction. It then asks us to consider whether we could justify refusing to torture a terrorist given that the consequences arising from the detonation of the device are so high. Here are several examples from the literature:

    There is a standard philosopher’s example which someone always invokes: suppose a fanatic, perfectly willing to die rather than collaborate in the thwarting of his...

  7. 3 Why Utilitarians Must Oppose Torture
    (pp. 100-138)

    Chapter 1 explored the nature of political torture as an attack on identity. Since identity is intersubjective, torture not only assaults the body of a discrete entity but also violates nested sets of social relations and the individuals embedded within. The harms of torture are complex and extend long into the future life of the victim. Moreover, the resulting damage is widespread, affecting relatives and close friends of the victim as well as entire communities. It is a myth to think that the harms of torture are suffered by the victim alone. Such a thought is far too simplistic and...

  8. 4 Torture, Tragic Choices, and Dirty Hands
    (pp. 139-185)

    In both present and future cultural space and time, torture imposes widespread harms on torture victims and their communities, on the torturers and their societies, and on the institutions of the torturing state. Thus, while it takes some effort to construct a utilitarian absolute opposition to torture, there is no great conceptual challenge. When we realize what it takes for a state to torture, we also realize that torture will always violate utilitarian principles.

    However, not all consequentialist arguments for torture are utilitarian. There is an alternative moral position that legitimizes torture. This is the so-called problem of dirty hands,...

  9. 5 On Neither Excusing nor Justifying Torture
    (pp. 186-201)

    Legal arguments for torture typically rely on the ticking-bomb hypothesis, tragic-choice reasoning, and utilitarian arguments. Chapters 2 through 4 demonstrate the invalidity of these general arguments for torture. I now build on those insights to demonstrate the inadequacy of a number of specifically legal arguments for torture. The debate typically centres on whether state torture should be excused after the fact or whether it is justifiable before the fact. In the event that torture is held to be justifiable, the arguments concern whether to legalize it. Miriam Gur-Arye (2004) accepts the prohibition against torture but believes that it is sometimes...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 202-220)

    What these reflections demonstrate first is that the default position on torture is sound. Everyone agrees, and is correct in believing, that torture is evil. But there is no ceteris paribus clause. It is not just that we should refrain from torturing unless some extreme circumstance dictates otherwise but that we should never torture at all. Every theorist accepts at least a prima facie deontological prohibition of torture. They disagree simply about whether that prohibition holds under all possible circumstances. As we have seen, protorture theorists envision states of emergency where the right not to be tortured must be overridden....

  11. References
    (pp. 221-232)
  12. Index
    (pp. 233-238)