Societal Norms and Safeguarding National Security
Deviation from the norms that inform acceptable conduct of individuals within a group is often unacceptable. However, what happens when the deviation from these norms could save millions of lives or lead to the discovery of critical information that threatens national security? In an attempt to answer this puzzling question, this paper will focus solely on the aspect of torture. Societal norms dictate that all form of torture is wrong, social theorists have agreed that torture is forbidden under all circumstances due to its capacity to violate human rights (Colb, 2009). Others have that the benefits of allowing torture are marginal and unpredictable while the costs are substantial (Buha, 2010). However, when it comes to matters of national security all such good wisdom flies out the window.
Torture and Safeguarding National Security
Many arguments have been made in support for the arbitrary practices applied by some states in counter terrorism objectives. One argument makes a simple point, why are we afraid to permit torture in these designated circumstances when these practices are legal in many states who openly permit certain forms of killing and practices that inflict even greater physical harm than torture? (Belanny, 2006). Another argument has come about to challenge social norms themselves by stating that we should not be afraid to break adherence to abstract moral principles when doing so results in the salvation of hundreds of thousands of human lives (Buha, 2010). Other arguments have gone ahead to appeal to the reason of followers of societal norms that are informed by utilitarian and deontological perspectives through the infamous ticking time bomb scenario. In this scenario, there is a hypothetical ticking time bomb in a crowded city that has the capacity to kill everyone in sight if it is detonated. Law enforcement does not have adequate time to perform a general search but they have succeeded in apprehending an individual whom they suspect knows where the bomb is planted and how to disable it. In this case, shouldn’t law enforcement torture the individual to obtain information that would save millions of lives?
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In my opinion these arguments and these scenarios do not usually present themselves in practice as straightforward as they appear in theory. Following societal norms requires that the rules that govern a society be followed regardless of the benefit that occurs from deviating from them (Moore, 1989). These rules must be followed universally and deviating from them just because others seems to be doing them and succeeding while at it, defeats the entire purpose of having great values within our society (Pasner & Vermuele, 2006). Moreover, there is a reason that the society does not allow acts that threaten human rights and the rule of law such as torture to flourish. If we allow a slight deviation for the purpose of national security, then we will be getting ourselves on a slippery slope to applying torture in situations that are less justified (Buha, 2010). For instance, if the hypothetical scenario presented by the ticking time bomb is expounded further to include a wrongful arrest. Then law enforcement would have tortured an innocent person, failed to gather any information from him/her and the bomb would explode and kill everyone anyway.
The folly of allowing a catastrophe to occur while attempting to safeguard the rights of one individual is apparent and the complexity of the challenges facing states as they attempt to safeguard their territories from terrorism is indeed daunting. However, we must not forget that the law is flexible enough to address all these challenges without the need deviate from our societal norms which are indeed the foundation upon which our society rests.
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