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Confronting TortureEssays on the Ethics, Legality, History, and Psychology of Torture Today$
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Scott A. Anderson and Martha C. Nussbaum

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226529387

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226529554.001.0001

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Torture as Unjust Means of War: To Squelch the Sirens’ Singing

Torture as Unjust Means of War: To Squelch the Sirens’ Singing

(p.231) Chapter 11 Torture as Unjust Means of War: To Squelch the Sirens’ Singing
Confronting Torture

Scott A. Anderson

University of Chicago Press

This chapter looks at how the context of war affects the ethics of torture and considers the role that just war theory and international humanitarian law should play in governing its use or prohibition. Just war theory supports the principle of distinction, which grants protected status to civilians and anyone else (including captured and injured combatants) who is “out of the fight.” The principle of distinction is crucial both for limiting the horrors of the conduct of war and for making it possible to end active conflict and achieve reconciliation between adversaries. This chapter argues that the absolute moral prohibition on torture in war can be defended by validating the reasonability and importance of the conventions of international law, rather than needing to argue in the other direction—from the immorality of torture to the force of international laws banning its use. It also argues against the sort of justifications given for torture by its apologists—particularly, the dehumanization of one’s enemies by their vilification as evil, and the use of abstract cases—such as the ticking bomb scenario—that depict them as possessing evil-genius superpowers.

Keywords:   convention, dehumanization, ethics of torture, international humanitarian law, just war theory, principle of distinction, reconciliation, ticking bomb scenario, torture

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