The torture debate
As in any other debate, we are spinning our wheels when talking about torture if the basic terms are not defined.
Currently there is no agreement about whom torture is applied to, or what the definition of "torture" is.
Let’s agree that we are talking about procedures applied to captured terrorists or voluntary combatants who attack us, not procedures applied to civilians or political prisoners.
The term "torture" recalls undignified acts committed by dictators to punish their opponents. Thus, people reject torture, and rightly so, as an attack to human dignity.
On the other side, is the stress caused by forced apnoea or sleep deprivation "torture"?
I would define torture this way: “Those means of applied force that do not respect the dignity of a human being and cause persistent or permanent physical harm to a captive person.”
However, this definition is not enough. To more clearly define a demarcation line between what constitutes “excessive force” and what does not, we have to add:
“Such means of torture would not be administered to our own troops”.
This second part of the definition would exclude “sleep depravation” and other techniques that are commonly administered to your own military personnel, for example, as means of training.
If we use a technique with our own troops, then it is not “excessive” and surely the same technique could be used to pressure captive terrorists for the purposes of collecting information.
On the other side, if we would NOT use a technique on your own troops, then this is a confirmation that such technique is excessive.
Having been military trained, I would gladly volunteer for supervised “water boarding” and would tolerate being grabbed by the collar and pushed against a soft wall, if this had the potential of saving another person’s life. Wouldn’t you?
Once we have a definition of torture (or excessive force) then the basic question can be answered:
Can we use any means of extracting information from a person, including torture, if the life of other people is at stake?
This is an old ethical question. The answer is No: The end does not justify the means.
Only when the terrorist is in the act of taking a human life, then the terrorist can be stopped by any means, as this falls under the ethical definition of “self defence”.