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Is torture ever justified?
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Torture undermines human rights and dignity

It is unacceptable to undermine human rights in the way that torture does.
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The Argument

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)[1] condemns torture and derogation and declares that such vile actions against any human are not justifiable under any circumstances. The techniques of torture are designed to violate a person’s sense of dignity. The torturer aims to break their prisoners physiologically and psychologically using methods rooted in fear. “Torture is a self-perpetuating phenomenon.”[2] The uncertainty of what is to come along with the lingering traces of torment birth and build anxiety, tension and terror. The pain emanating from torture demolishes the walls of mental resilience and renders its subject a slave to their physical vulnerabilities, and when this happens in the presence of spectators it is all the more humiliating and degrading.[3] Reduced to a helpless state the person being tortured starts viewing their torturer as all powerful and free. Such people are then, never truly liberated from their imprisonment even if physically released from confinement. Apart from PTSD, survivors show high rates of depression, anxiety,adjustment problems, violent outbreaks and stress induced immunosuppression to name a few. There is no doubt that torture has lasting pathological effects which are psychophysiological on the person it is being subjected on, however, studies show that it also affects the psyche of the torturer adversely. They tend to develop automatic obedience towards authority and in order to please the higher-ups may also lose sight of moral consequences of their actions. Studies also reveal that such an attitude towards violence can breed aggressive antisocial behavior and often develop a hunter complex wherein they not only dehumanize their victims but also find violence fascinating and appealing. This further down the road may lead to PTSD and substance abuse.[4]

Counter arguments

While the infliction of torture does have several psychological implications it can be justified on moral grounds especially in ‘ticking bomb’ scenarios, where the information acquired could be used to save the lives of many others. In cases where the involvement of the suspect is certain and the suffering of the victim of the person is custody is greater, it is more like choosing the lesser of the two evils. The limits and restrictions of UN convention against torture and inhuman treatment too is subject to interpretation as there are many ambiguities in its clauses. For instance the circumstances it cites are the ones which generally impact a larger population, like war, political instability, public emergency etc. Since these rights are designed to not interfere with the fundamental rights of the country its application remains relative and not absolute.[5]


[P1] Torture is a fundamental contravention of human rights.

Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Tuesday, 22 Sep 2020 at 07:31 UTC

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