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Torturer's Dilemma: A Theoretical Analysis of the Societal Consequences of Torturing Terrorist Suspects

NCJ Number
Studies in Conflict & Terrorism Volume: 30 Issue: 7 Dated: July 2007 Pages: 635-646
Vladimir A. Lefebvre; Jonathan David Farley
Date Published
July 2007
12 pages
Using a mathematical model for analyzing ethical dilemmas, this article shows the consequences if torturing terrorist suspects to obtain vital information should become the accepted cultural norm.
The authors posit two ethical systems. Under one system, its good to reject the use of ignoble means to achieve noble ends. Under the second ethical system, it is bad to obstruct the movement toward noble ends by refraining from using ignoble means. The authors conclude that positive moral self-images based in punitive dominance that demeans and inflicts suffering on one's opponents in a conflict entrenches, expands, and energizes conflict and estrangement in diverse national and global societies. The person who acts under the first ethical system maintains a positive moral self-image by developing cooperative relationships with those who act under opposing and threatening values. Under the second ethical system, the actor has a positive self-image when using ignoble means (torture, psychological and physical pain, and stressful conditions) to achieve noble ends (saving of lives and the preservation and advancement of valued institutions). The consequences of the first ethical system are positive self-concepts linked to cooperation and compromise in the midst of conflict. Under the second ethical system, positive self-concepts are sealed through punitive dominance of and estrangement from opponents in a conflict. In Saudi Arabia, the latter ethical system shapes the government's response to terrorism. This has led to an even more severe response from the terrorists. 5 tables, 19 notes, and appended supplementary information on the mathematical models used