A utilitarian argument against torture interrogation of terrorists

Abstract

Following the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, much support for torture interrogation of terrorists has emerged in the public forum, largely based on the “ticking bomb” scenario. Although deontological and virtue ethics provide incisive arguments against torture, they do not speak directly to scientists and government officials responsible for national security in a utilitarian framework. Drawing from criminology, organizational theory, social psychology, the historical record, and my interviews with military professionals, I assess the potential of an official U.S. program of torture interrogation from a practical perspective. The central element of program design is a sound causal model relating input to output. I explore three principal models of how torture interrogation leads to truth: the animal instinct model, the cognitive failure model, and the data processing model. These models show why torture interrogation fails overall as a counterterrorist tactic. They also expose the processes that lead from a precision torture interrogation program to breakdowns in key institutions—health care, biomedical research, police, judiciary, and military. The breakdowns evolve from institutional dynamics that are independent of the original moral rationale. The counterargument, of course, is that in a society destroyed by terrorism there will be nothing to repair. That is why the actual causal mechanism of torture interrogation in curtailing terrorism must be elucidated by utilitarians rather than presumed.

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Correspondence to Jean Maria Arrigo Ph.D..

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Arrigo, J.M. A utilitarian argument against torture interrogation of terrorists. SCI ENG ETHICS 10, 543–572 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-004-0011-y

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Keywords

  • torture
  • interrogation
  • terrorism
  • utilitarianism
  • military ethics
  • human rights