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    To Torture or Not to Torture?

    You are a federal agent working for the Department of Homeland Security's Counter-Terrorist Team (CTT). Part of your duties involves the investigation of terrorist activities and the interrogation of suspected terrorists. In recent weeks, the CTT has been investigating evidence that a large-scale terrorist attack is imminent in a major metropolitan area of the United States. The threat level is very high and sources have confirmed that a major disaster is certain. Until recently, CTT has not been able to discover the details of the attack including the city that is going to be targeted.

    You just had a major breakthrough, however. In a raid on a suspected terrorist cell group, a number of high level terrorist leaders have been arrested. During their arrests, you have uncovered important details about the attack. You discover that a thermo-nuclear weapon has been smuggled into the country and is planted in a major US city. Though you don't know the precise day or time of its detonation, the evidence indicates that it will be soon.

    In an effort to get more information, you are assigned to interrogate the leader of the terrorist cell. You have been authorized to use whatever means necessary to achieve your goal. After hours of interrogation you have learned little. He has confirmed that there is a nuclear bomb and that it will go off very soon. In fact, he has boasted about it, but he has refused to tell you where it is located. You can tell he is resolved not to reveal its location and no amount of pain you inflict on him will get him to change his mind.

    However, along with capturing the terrorist, you have also captured his family, including his seven-year-old daughter. While you are convinced he can withstand torture himself, you are also convinced that if you torture his daughter in front of him he will break down in time to tell you the location of the nuclear device. Because of your experience in interrogation you are virtually certain of these two facts. However, you cannot fake the torture of the girl - he will not be convinced unless he actually sees you torture her and hears her screams.

    You bring the daughter into the room and strap her into a chair. You light a cigarette lighter and prepare to hold the flame against her skin.

    Two important points: (1) We know that this will work and (2) It is the only thing that will work. Should you torture her? You are not allowed to alter this scenario in any manner.


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    Solution Preview

    The over-riding presupposition here is that the torture of a family member is successful at getting information. If experience dictates this method as viable, then it is presupposed that it has been done before. In effect, the ethical barrier has already been breached, without consideration of the action being right or wrong. The action is based on the 'greater good' theory; when something poses an inevitable threat then it is just to counter that action despite the loss of life. Justified war, for example, is based on this theory. The old Just War theory is acceptable if certain criteria are met: the right to defend, the intention is just (i.e. ward off evil and protect your citizens, not trying to claim land for yourself), all other means have failed (diplomacy, talks, etc.), peace is the outcome, there is certainty of success, the loss of lives is proportionate to the success, there is assurance of protection of noncombatants. Source: Can war be Just by James Turner Johnson ...

    Solution Summary

    A tortures scenario is debated.