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Published on July 29th, 2014 | by Jasmin Thind
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A Detriment to Liberty

“On the face of it, the prohibition against torture should be exactly the sort of thing that gives way in the present atmosphere of adjusting the balance between liberty and security.” (Jeremy Waldron, Torture, terror, and trade-offs: philosophy for the White House, OUP, 2010)

Individual liberty essentially needs to be protected and as a result, any attempt to find a balance between liberty and security should be forsaken in relation to the prohibition of torture. At the present time torture has been regularly occurring but it needs to be completely prohibited regardless of the ‘ticking time bomb’ scenarios, which are frequently referred to by liberal and philosophical theorists.

Through the use of the example of Jewish extermination camps during the holocaust, Neocleous (2007) also implies that such human tragedies such as torture are triggered by the concepts of national security and necessity. Therefore, feeble excuses related to security endanger lives rather than protecting them.

Developing this stance, it can be argued that once torture is accepted, the moral compass is lost in governance. This notion is exemplified through Roth’s (2005:198) reference to the ‘slippery slope’ theory, which states that once a human right offence such as torture is accepted it acts as a key to the door ,which if opened will spread other inhumane violations faster than bacteria.  For example, The Landau Commission in 1987 in Israel sanctioned the restricted use of coercive interrogation in ticking-bomb circumstances. However, this exceptional rule became the norm; the use of torture rapidly spread until the 1999 Supreme Court ban (Roth, 2005).

Therefore the ticking time bomb references appear to be nothing but a story used to lure opposition against using torture to accept that it is morally right. It is shown through Luban (2006)‘s claims that ticking bomb scenarios are the foundations of a set of beliefs that carry no weight. Their role is to provide unreasonable justifications for the use of interrogational torture to locate the supposedly hidden bomb for the sake of national security.

Furthermore, the ticking-time bomb is an example fundamentally used to exaggerate the moral dilemma and invoke tolerance for a torture culture.  By giving individuals two choices with the misconception that one choice can save millions of lives, while the other takes the liberty of one, forces even people supporting individual rights, such as liberals to favour the practice of torture.

The world around us is laden with insecurities; by accepting this simple fact political authorities can avoid describing every inhumane military strategy as a security matter and contribute to the stabilisation of a concrete prohibition against torture. The powerful governments use national security issues and futile debates such as the ticking-time bomb as an excuse to manipulate the law and use it as a defence mechanism to justify inhumane crimes such as torture. This gives birth to terrorism; who seek revenge for the violation of their individual liberty. To stop this vicious circle there is a need for the prohibition against torture to remain absolute and for the governments to strictly abide by it. It is true that for the greater good a supreme evil has to be encountered and defeated but, evil is a natural element engrossed in human reality, society and politics. By the continuous use of torture humans will be forced to lose the belief in humanity and the belief that a secure law can protect their liberty.

Neocleous, M (2007) Security, Liberty and the Myth of Balance: Towards a Critique of Security Politics, Contemporary Political Theory, 6. Palgrave Macmillan Ltd1470-8914/07.

Luban, D (2006) ‘Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb’ in Greenberg, K.J The Torture Debate in America, Cambridge Press.

Roth,K (2005) ‘Justifying Torture’ in Roth. K and Worden et al. M (eds.), Torture: Does It Make Us Safer? Is It Ever Okay? A Human Rights Perspective New York: New Press.

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About the Author

International Politics and Human Rights Graduate. Interested in keeping up-to-date with current affairs at a national and international level, specifically regarding human rights issues and equality. I love reading and I am interested in engaging young people from diverse backgrounds to engage in discussions around societal and cultural norms and develop new ways of tackling social and political issues.

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