Can Torture ever be justified?


I tend to agree that it is indeed difficult to justify the use of state sanctioned violence in the form of torture. The assumption that the use of torture can be reserved for the most extreme cases involving suspected terrorists  is critically questioned by Susan Opotow but considered by Allhof under the  notion of ‘separation of cases.’

Perhaps if one probes deeper into the underlying reasons for the use of torture by nations against, for instance, detainees in Guantanamo, one discovers a risk and security culture that offers a meta-narrative of what is perceived by state powers to be an existential threat to the citizens of a state.

Part of the justification presented by states for the use of torture could be the perception woven into such state narratives that such suspected terrorists or political dissidents who align themselves with a political party that opposes  a government are to be ‘morally excluded’ from the majority in society and are  therefore ‘eligible targets of various forms of harm’ (Opotow).

The reality of the continuing  use of torture even  by states that are signatories of the UN Convention Against Torture is that such state violence continues to be legitimized due in part to the definitional problems faced with the use of the term ‘torture.’

The British Criminologist, Stan Cohen, alludes to the semantic battles fought in various domestic and international courts by those states who deny that their techniques involving detention, interrogation and sensory deprivation of detainees amount to torture.

Additionally, Rene Buin notes that ‘the obligation on non-refoulement under Art3 of the ECHR and Art7 of the ICCPR and Art3 of the Convention Against Torture is absolute.’ Yet there are liberal democracies that continue to promote ‘a torture culture’ ( per Luban, quoted in Opotow), underpinned by the consequentialist idea that the end justifies the means.

The sober reality is that such violation of human rights ‘remain as indelible stains’ and ‘do not disappear from public conscience over time.’ ( Opotow) . As John Le Carre  cautions,  ‘don’t imagine you’ll be unscathed by the methods you use… the end may justify the means ..but there is a price tag to pay, and the price tends to be oneself.’ ( quoted in Opotow).