Torture is defined as the “act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment or revenge, as means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty”. Most people would think of torture as something that only happens in James Bond movies, unfortunately those people are wrong. The topic of torture and its legality has been heavily debated after the methods used by the CIA to get information from terrorists or perceived terrorists after 9/11 were revealed. Some say torture was necessary and justifiable due to the circumstances and some say torture is never acceptable regardless of the situation. In an article for The New York Times, written by Gary Gutting, Gutting conducts an interview with Jeff McMahan, known for his book “The Ethics of Killing” which discusses a philosophical study on the justification of different types of killings, from abortion to assisted suicide. McMahan makes it clear that he is against torture and that any permission to use torture as a means to gain information will be abused by those who see it as the best way to get their job done. McMahan makes a compelling argument regarding the use of torture by those who mean well and those who have unjust motives. He describes how torture is usually ineffective for both those with just motives and those with unjust motives. He says “when those seeking information have just aims, their victims are often innocent[. . .] lack the information sought [. . .] or are sufficiently strong-willed [. . .] so that the torture is ineffective or counterproductive.”(McMahan, paragraph 2). This argument makes me think, even if the use of torture can be some how excused, would it even be effective and what would be the protocol for dealing with torture victims who are found to be innocent? While McMahan is clearly against torture he does believe that torture can be justified when used in self defense. He uses a situation in which torturing someone could stop them from harming many others, saying that the person being tortured could have avoided it by simply not plotting to commit the crime or giving all information they have from the beginning. McMahan later discusses his fear that saying torture is moral in any case would provide an excuse for immoral torture. McMahan relies on logic regarding the inevitability of torturing the wrong person/people and the argument that torture is immoral and because of that should be illegal throughout the argument. His arguments appeal to the idea that our justice system is not very good the way it already is and allowing torture would only make things worse and leave more room for error. 

This article made me reflect on the debate we had in class regarding the use of torture warrants. Before the debate I was stuck in the middle on the issue. I feel that if someone I loved was in danger I would want for the person with information to save them to give it up no matter what methods are used to get it, and at the same time I see recent headlines about a men being released from prison after decades due to wrongful convictions and cannot completely agree with the use of torture. I am reluctant to say that I am 100% for torture because of the possibility of an innocent person being tortured. During the debate I had to argue for the side against torture, it was not very hard seeing as I am on the fence about the topic but it was interesting to see how easy it was for my side to come up with counterarguments for the people arguing in favor of torture. This process did not change my mind completely but it did make me lean more towards being against torture than in favor of it.


Works Cited

  1. Gutting, Gary, and Jeff McMahan. “Can Torture Ever Be Moral?” Opinionator Can Torture Ever Be Moral Comments. The New York Times, 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 05 Feb. 2016. <;.
  2. Reyes, Emily Albert, and Mait Lait. “L.A. to Pay $24 Million to Two Men Imprisoned for Decades after Wrongful Murder Convictions.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 19 Jan. 2016. Web. 05 Feb. 2016. <;.