The Morality of Torture and Group-Based Differentiation


            The term ‘torture stems from the Latin word ‘torquere’ which means to twist. There exists a grey area on the precise legal definition of the term torture. However, the practice has been condemned by international agreements including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 5, “ no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel inhuman or degrading or inhumane treatment.”  The Third Geneva Convention through Article 17 states, ‘that no mental or physical torture may be inflicted on prisoners of war.”

            The working definition for the purpose of this paper envisages torture to be any act by which severe pain or suffering be it physical or mentalis intentionally inflicted on a person for such purpose of obtaining information or a confession. Indeed, torture is one of the cruelest acts that can be committed on a person, it is not only inhuman but also degrading on human dignity.

Moral permissibility of torture

            Based on the preceding definition, the practice of torture refers to the officially sanctioned and intended infliction of intense suffering on an individual. The intention is to force someone to give up information or engage in an act forcefully. It is because of this that torture can never be legitimized. An attempt to legitimize the practice would have to prescribe the scale and measure of the amount of torture to be committed on a suspect, and this can never be achieved. During interrogation torture stops when the person being interrogated caves in to the pain. This pain ought not be inflicted on his person. A common practice during war is to torture the family members of the person being investigated until they cave in to revealing the ‘truth’.In the past, the practice of torture was extremely rampant. However, the practice has been banned by many jurisdictions across the globe out of the realization that it does not necessarilyyield the desired result and the effect it leaves on the subjects of torture.

            From a moral point of view, torture is wrong and unacceptable under any circumstances. This is because any legislation that purports to narrow down the definition of torture by prescribing specific forms of torture would be nullified by the international conventions that expressly condemn the practice(Dershowitz).By virtue of being human, all human beings have and should enjoy the right against any form of violence because it is a major violation on their dignity as human beings.

            Indeed, the prohibition of torture is both a matter of fundamental human right and a basic civil liberty.  The absolute prohibition of torture stems from liberal democracy. Liberal democracy exists to stand against the unlimited use of public authority on citizens, and torture qualifies to be the most unlimited form of power that a government can commit on a person.

            The 9/11 attack brought attention to this topic through the scenario where a prisoner could potentially have information of the location of a weapon that was intended to be used on the people. The main question arising from this scenario was is it acceptable to torture one person to potentially save thousands.  While it may seem ethically correct, the reality is these conditions are too convenient to exist in real life; there are too many factors that come into play that could potentially affect the outcome of torture making it futile.

            There is no guarantee that torturing a person results to them speaking the truth, while some individuals cave into the pain and tell the truth other individuals are hardcore and are most likely to remain silent or tell a lie.


The United States Criminal law system protects the rights of an accused by deeming them innocent until proven guilty. As such, torturing an accused goes against the very fabric that our criminal justice system is builtupon. Allowing the practice of torture to exist would resultininjustices that would see innocent civilians suffer in the hands of law enforcement forcing them to give confessions of criminal activities that they did not engage in. The practice would also give leeway to the prejudiced targeting of innocent civilians and in effect defeat the very purpose of justice.

should states recognize identity through group-based differentiation?

A person identity is defined to be the totality of one’s self-construal. This definition encompasses the self-construal of the individual in the past, present an future. It follows that all actions of the individual are informed by their own construal. On the other hand, group identity is defined to be a sense of belonging to a specific group. This sense of belonging is depicted by the social influence within a group.

While it is easy to recognize identity through group-based differentiation, particularly in the cultural setting, attempting to apply the same threshold in criminal law would be detrimental to justice; the criminal law system is set up to prescribe punishment for individual wrongs and not group wrongs(Sen). According to the provisions of the constitution and the rule of law, no one is above the law and punishment is prescribed uniformly regardless of the social class, race or identity of the accused. In operation, the criminal justice system operates beyond the realm of bias.

Restricting the identity of a person to group based differentiation is not only morally wrong but aslo unacceptable. While it is true that a group is made up of individuals, the practice of limiting identity to group based identification is not only ignorant to the fact that uniformity does not apply to the group and that the believes and practices of a group are not neccesarily the beliefs of the individual. More so, this form of identification would condemn all members of a group to being tied down to the actions of one individual who lacks the legal mandate to act on behalf of the group.

States should not entertain the idea of group differentiation. The justification for the absolute condemnation of this practice is that it leaves for arbitrary abuse of power by the majority at the expense of minorities. This preferential treatment if left unchecked would lead to massive abuse of human rights sponsored by the state against its citizens. The reality of such arbitrary abuse of power is evident even under the current regime. Despite states being under an obligation to provide fair and equal treatment to all its citizens, the sad reality is that minority groups are preyed upon by individuals tasked to protect their interests. Such is the case of law enforcement officers targeting black-Americans out of prejudice informed by the prevalence of African-Americans belonging to gangs or carrying guns. As a result of the prejudiced treatment, innocent African-Americans have died courtesy of the bodies tasked to protect them.


Liberal democracy exists to serve as the basic threshold of providing the country’s and states’ moral compass; with the majority having their while the minority have their say. Group-based identification would effectively curtail the guarantee provided to the minority by democracy.Also, the power of liberal democracy to stand against the unlimited use of public authority on citizens would be threatened.


Dershowitz,A., &Levinson, Sanford.(n.d). Torture. (Part 1: Philosophical considerations)

Sen, A. (n.d.). Identity and violence: The illusion of destiny (1st ed., Issues of our time). New York:W.W. Norton &. (Chapter 1: The Violence of Illusion)  

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