Would you condone the torture of terrorist's children it it meant saving lives?

An article about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks) that ran in the Wall Street Journal recently caught my attention. It wasn’t so much the entire article itself that caught my eye as it was the very last paragraph of the article. Most of the article dealt with what methods of interrogation were legal and the article cited what could and could not be done to the suspect. Most of the article was stuff I had read before until the article offered this little gem:

“U.S. authorities have an additional inducement to make Mr. Mohammed talk, even if he shares the suicidal commitment of the Sept. 11 hijackers: The Americans have access to two of his elementary-school-age children, the top law-enforcement official says. The children were captured in a September raid that netted one of Mr. Mohammed’s top comrades, Ramzi Binalshibh.”

The meaning behind this is not very clear and could be taken several ways. It could mean that Mr. Mohammed would not be able to see his kids until he cooperated. It could mean that the children would be held indefinitely until he cooperated. Or it could mean that the U.S. would threaten to harm or actually harm his kids in order to get him to cooperate and get information. So, this brings me to my question. If millions of lives were at stake, and the only way to get the information you needed from a terrorist like Mr. Mohammed to save these lives was to torture his children, would you condone/support that idea? I’d have to say yes. The millions of lives would make it justifiable. The Greater Good always wins in the end.

Yes. I’m not saying I’d condone it in this particular case as I know too little about it, but in the hypothetical situation that millions of lives are saved through the torture of those two, then yes I would.

Ugh. It’s a really hard choice in this case, but I cannot condone harming children. Besides, they could just make the guy THINK they’re harming his children to gain his cooperation. That is, if he even cares…

Not under any circumstances!

a) there is no guarantee the infomation would in fact save the lives;
b) there is no guarantee the information would be gained at all; and
c) There are no situation in which even threatening to harm (supposedly) innocents, especially children is acceptable.

It is morally and ethically abominable.

This is a revolting dichotomy, and utterly hypothetical. Here’s the problem - how do you know that committing a heinous act to prevent an infinitely more heinous one would work?

Could you be absolutely 100% sure that doing this would definitely prevent the loss of millions of lives? In a fantasy situation where there was a cast-iron guarantee that this would work, then I give you a tentative yes.

But since we don’t live in that world, no feckin’ way.

Somebody’s been watching 24, haven’t they?

Sorry, but I just hate moral imperatives. The detonator for a nuclear bomb is lying on a floor and a baby picks it up. You look up to see its finger about to hit the big red button. Are you telling me you wouldn’t fire the .357 Magnum you happen to have in your hand?

Yes, it’s a hypothetical situation. I don’t care. If your ideology/philosophy cannot handle hypothetical situations, you shouldn’t go around issuing imperatives derived from it.

I would condone letting the terrorist think that they would be tortured as incentive to talk.

I’d have agent Jack Bauer set up a mock video of the terrorist’s family being executed one by one. Hey, that would be a great idea of a TV show!

Seriously, no I wouldn’t. Fighting terrorism with terrorism is not only morally repugnant, I don’t believe it would effectively stop terrorism. Rather it would fuel it.

It makes me for exciting television, but not for good reality.

Turn it around.

What if someone kidnapped the Bush daughters, and threatened to execute them slowly and horribly unless the United States ceased all hostile actions in Iraq, apologised to the UN and returned all the troops to US soil? Maybe this unnamed someone sent Dubya a videotape of the first daughther being mutilated to death as an incentive.

What do you think Dubya would do?
What do you think Dubya should do?
Hell, what would you do in those circumstances?

Clearly there are cases where the death of children is necessary (the contrived example of the baby crawling towards the button which launches all the nukes in the world, for eaxmple). There are cases where teenagers are taking up arms and are active participants in what they are doing, in whcih case they become legitimate targets of war. But to torture children, not because of what they are doing but because of what their parents might have done (or might be about to do) is in my opinion morally repugnant. And ineffective, which is worse.

And if the American administration starts waging war in this way, then it will be clearly time for regime change in Washington DC.


So if you really wanted the US to stop supporting a vicious regime and get US troops out of your country, would you condone the torture of US legislator’s children to get them to change foreign policy?

Oh so very different of course but I wonder if everyone will see it that way? In fact, if news of this got out most people would think that the US had sunk lower than the suicide bombers.

On another thread, I condoned Khalid’s torture. I had no compunctions about doing anything to this man if it will eventually help save lives. More than a few people objected on moral grounds, stating that we would become as evil as they were to stoop to their level. I had no problem with that either.

I draw the line on innnocents. They may bluff Khalid about his children all they want, they can create photorealistic images to make him think they are being brutally tortured. but I will will not allow, condone or support harming the children even if it is to save lives. The guilty waived their rights in commiting a henious crime, their children did not.

still No. i would fire the .357 Magnum in the air and run towards the baby.

justification is very tempting when it comes to morals, and everyone is guilty one way or the other. but for something so blatant anyone who kills the baby should just die and be reborn as…as, as cow poop

That was the first thing that popped into my mind.

While watching that show, I was both horrified at Jack Bauer’s actions and able to justify them. I did guess it was faked, but only because I don’t think American TV can, in general, risk such a morally fuzzy act from one of its “good guys.”

(Earlier in the season, when he killed the unsuspecting witness, I didn’t consider that morally fuzzy, which just goes to show that I’m probably not the most moral person on the planet.)


I can’t believe anyone would even ask this question. First of all it has not been demonstrated that “millions of lives are at stake,” and even if it could be, I would rather die myself than torture a child.

You don’t have any kids, do you torben? If you did you wouldn’t even entertain such a repugnant question. Any country that would this would be surrendering all moral authority. Jesus, the more I think about this, the more pissed off I get.


  • No guarantee information obtained this way is sound.
  • Morally indefensible
  • Stooping to the level of the terrorist
  • Raises and escalates the stakes all round
  • A definite bad move PR-wise that is bound to backfire
  • Being the 'good-guy" means you’re not allowed to do repugnant things to suceed
  • Simply makes the world a more depressing place

And that goes for all types and victims of torture.

My views on torture are pretty much already spelled out in the other thread. Big, honkin’, stinkin’ no.

And “baby with nuclear detonator” argument? Puh-lease! If you have to stretch hypotheticals so far beyond the realms of plausibility that they lose all meaning (here’s a hint - how much would have to go wrong with the world before that situation could happen?), it’s a good sign that it’s not worth asking the question. Hypotheticals exist to experiment with real world scenarios without them happening, but no matter how people answer that hypothetical, it has no real bearing on this issue whatsoever, being as far removed from reality as the Earth is from the sun!