Imagine for a moment you are the head of an intelligence agency and have just been notified of an imminent threat. An individual has turned up to a police station, stating they have initiated a timer for a bomb located somewhere in the centre of a city. The bomb will detonate in 8 hours with a blast radius of 15 miles, would you action the use of torture with the hope of gaining information, potentially saving millions of lives?
This is a thought experiment called the "ticking time bomb" scenario, and it is often deployed by philosophers and academics of different moral traditions to justify or object to the permissibility of torture. The scenario has the ability to provoke extreme emotional responses, however, simplifies a very complex moral dilemma.
The practice of torture is abhorrent and it is the manifestation of the worst of humanity. In the past torture was part of human practice in different forms, from Vlad the impaler, the 15th century Romanian King who impaled thousands, to the Sicilian bull, a horrific torture technique victims were burnt alive. If those practices were replicated today, the perpetrators would be rightly universally condemned.
However, even though the right to be free from torture is recognised in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human rights, many governments and politicians continue to promote or facilitate torture. With the President of the United States, Donald Trump recently reasserting his view that waterboarding is an effective form of interrogation in an interview with ABC.
The scale of the modern use of torture around the world can not be understated, Amnesty International in 2014 reported that "a comprehensive and categorical statistical assessment of the global scale of torture is impossible" due to its widespread use.
Those that advocate torture like President Trump, often use the argument of self-defence in extreme circumstances. Rooted in the notion that torture is morally permissible in supreme emergencies, where one faces a dangerous threat like a terrorist attack.
The argument that torture can be implemented as a form of self-defence is fatally flawed. Torture is so barbaric an act, all human beings have an indefeasible right to be free from torture. Under no circumstances could torture be permissible, even in the case of supreme emergencies such as a terrorist attack.
Therefore we must question the ethics of politicians who wish to erode our right to be free from torture. Trump's director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo has ruled out using enhanced interrogation techniques, this is something to be welcomed. However, we should remain concerned that the individual who holds the most powerful position in the free world, advocates a view which is morally indefensible.