Torture that Saves Lives

By Kuba Golebiewski

Screen Shot 2019-05-09 at 9.45.13 AMWelcome to the ticking bomb scenario. Imagine a nuclear bomb in the center of an urban city and a terrorist in the captivity of the police. There is proof that the individual is connected to the bomb, yet there is never a certainty on what information he holds. In such an instance, should it be acceptable for the authorities to perform enhanced interrogation (torture) on the terrorist to gain valuable information about the bomb, saving millions of lives in the process? Or are his human rights more important?

Enhanced interrogation has been a topic of discussion for a long time. Torture as a whole has undergone many debates and controversies, yet most types of torture shouldn’t be disputed. Torture used as a tool for pure harm or as an instrument for revenge should not be debatable as it’s purely evil and should never be permitted, however, enhanced interrogation is a tool that can actually benefit society and save civilians.

The United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT), signed in 1985, mandates that torture and other inhumane actions should be prohibited globally. These laws have the intention of protecting the human rights of individuals, but overlook the possible dangers to the wider public due to the strict adherence of these laws.

During the War on Terror after the events of 9/11, enhanced interrogation performed on members of terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda became a major component of preventing future attacks. Many terrorist groups undergo special training to abstain from giving away any information during standard interrogation procedures. The Al Qaeda Tactical Manual is a manual describing the organization’s tactics, including strategies to prevent giving away information to the interrogators. In order to acquire the necessary information to prevent future massacres, the US government had to intensify their interrogation procedures. In turn, the head of CIA, George Tenet, and President George W. Bush approved the use of techniques such as waterboarding to retrieve valuable information to prevent future attacks.   

After the approval of these enhanced interrogation techniques, US militants were able to capture war criminals such as Abu Zubaydah. Extracted information from Zubaydah helped to identify other members of different terrorist organizations and prevent upcoming attacks. Without the use of procedures such as waterboarding, that information would not have been acquired and many innocent civilians could have been harmed in the process.

This scenario is also very applicable to more personal cases, such as the one in 2003 in Germany. Jakob von Maltzer, an 11-year-old son of a well-known banker was kidnapped. A few days after the kidnapping the man responsible was identified and arrested by the German police. With proof that he was the kidnapper, the police tried to unveil the location of the boy, however, the man only gave false information. After a few long hours, the chief of the German police force authorized the infliction of pain to gain the whereabouts of the child. Because of this, the man quickly revealed the correct location of the boy. Unfortunately, the boy was found dead as he was killed beforehand, but what if the boy was alive? Should a criminal’s rights be more valuable than the life of an innocent child?

What if it was your child? When facing moral dilemmas like this it’s never easy to distinguish right from wrong. In many cases, torture should not be allowed and cannot be justified in any way. Using torture as punishment should never be permitted, as other means of justice are much more humane and effective. However, in extreme cases, torture should be permitted as an integration tool, in order to gain valuable information to prevent the harm or death of other individuals.

The modern world changes fast. New institutions and laws are passed on every year, all trying to create a better and safer world for humanity, yet conflict is inevitable. Techniques such as enhanced interrogation might not seem like the obvious choice for preventing conflict, however, in extreme cases, they might be necessary in order to protect the masses. We have to know ahead of time. We must be prepared.

Next time, we will know before our planes come crashing down.

Next time, we will not tremble.

Next time… there won’t be a next time.


Works Cited

  1. Bagaric, Mirko, and Julie Clarke. “Not Enough Official Torture in the World? The Circumstances in Which Torture Is Morally Justifiable.” USF Scholarship Repository, University of San Francisco,
  2. Bernstein, Richard. “Kidnapping Has Germans Debating Police Torture.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Apr. 2003,
  3. “Ethics – Torture: The ‘Ticking Bomb’ Problem.” BBC, BBC,
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  5. Karl, Jonathan, and Luis Martinez. “Torture Report: Former CIA Directors Say Interrogation Program ‘Saved Thousands of Lives’.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 10 Dec. 2014,
  6. Levy, Janet. “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques Saved American Lives.” Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2019. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, Accessed 17 Apr. 2019. Originally published as “How the Use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques Saved Thousands of American Lives,” American Thinker, 5 Mar. 2017.
  7. Nicks, Denver. “Once Again, Torture Debate Hinges on a ‘Ticking Time Bomb’.” Time, Time, 9 Dec. 2014,
  8. Simcox, Robin. “Keeping America Safe Involves Morally Difficult Decisions.” Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2019. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, Accessed 17 Apr. 2019. Originally published as “Keeping America Safe Involves Morally Difficult Decisions,” The Daily Signal, 31 Jan. 2017.
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