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Morality of reverse torture?


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Suppose there's some intelligence organization that's captured a high-level enemy and needs to extract information to prevent possible attacks on innocent civilians and prevent many deaths.

 

Now, this organization has rules against torture and cruel punishment. So, instead, it subjects the prisoner to surgery (with painkillers and proper treatment) to implant an electrode in his brain, so the interrogators can immediately stimulate it and cause pleasure. Not pain, but pleasure. They have a little dial that can turn up the level of pleasure farther than is imaginable.

 

They press the button a few times to show the prisoner what it can do, and inform him that they'll press it again if he gives them information. He's placed in a boring ol' prison cell and gets no other pleasures -- crappy food, little human contact, etc. Nothing abusive, just nothing very nice.

 

Is this "reverse torture" unethical?

 

(Considering the obvious objection, "it's just like bribery" -- well, I assume they could tinker with the knob and button to make the guy dependent on that pleasure. Give strong enough pleasure, then deny it, and you have a powerful bargaining tool.)

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Even when performed under proper anasthesia, with painkillers provided and good standards of care?

 

If that's still a problem, what if I do this through some sort of transcranial magnetic stimulation, so all I have to do is put an electronic helmet on the guy? (Or electrodes applied to, er, "strategic" locations.)

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Depending on how much they do it, it could be far worse than normal torture. This is little different than turning the guy into a drug addict and then offering them drugs in exchange for information. Only far stronger but without organ damage from metabolizing drugs.

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Even when performed under proper anasthesia, with painkillers provided and good standards of care?

Yes. Any medical procedure beyond what is reasonable to ensure the health of a prisoner is considered torture.

 

all I have to do is put an electronic helmet on the guy? (Or electrodes applied to, er, "strategic" locations.)

 

Hmmm...I'm getting images of the pictures from Abu Gharib here.

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Depending on how much they do it, it could be far worse than normal torture. This is little different than turning the guy into a drug addict and then offering them drugs in exchange for information. Only far stronger but without organ damage from metabolizing drugs.

 

Right, but (done correctly) there are no harmful side effects. No long-term damage. Just pleasure.

 

Is the addiction a significant torture in itself?

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Fascinating question, Cap'n. I think people will struggle with the "special technology" side of the question, but you could just as easily be asking "Is it torture if I have the most beautiful woman in the world perform fellatio on the prisoner in order to extract information?"

 

I mean... it's about the pleasure response, and how it is derived is irrelevant as per your premises. Is it wrong to use pleasure to extract information? I think that's your question.

 

If it is, I must concede that I've dated a few torturers in my time.


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How would you like it if someone gave you so much pleasure that it burns out your dopamine receptors and you can't feel pleasure again without hitting a switch?

 

I believe Cap'n adequately covered this already by presenting the clause that no long term harm would be done. "No harmful side effects. No long-term damage."

Edited by iNow
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Fascinating question, Cap'n. I think people will struggle with the "special technology" side of the question, but you could just as easily be asking "Is it torture if I have the most beautiful woman in the world perform fellatio on the prisoner in order to extract information?"

 

I mean... it's about the pleasure response, and how it is derived is irrelevant as per your premises. Is it wrong to use pleasure to extract information? I think that's your question.

 

Yeah, that's basically it. The machine is there to prevent it from becoming a question of sexual abuse ("what if the prisoner is gay?") or anything else -- my question is purely about pleasure.

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Ah, if there is no permanent damage then I guess it's OK.

 

But since pleasure and pain are "merely" neurophysiological responses, is there really a difference? We would be inflicting a state of disequilibrium on the individuals function and performance for the express purpose of manipulating them and achieving personal gain. Why does it matter which direction that equilibrium goes?

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But since pleasure and pain are "merely" neurophysiological responses, is there really a difference? We would be inflicting a state of disequilibrium on the individuals function and performance for the express purpose of manipulating them and achieving personal gain. Why does it matter which direction that equilibrium goes?

 

Much of our morality seems to be based on the principle of reducing suffering. Objectively, this technique reduces suffering, because the interrogators "inflict" pleasure upon the prisoner. Under a simple moral structure, it's perfectly moral.

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Argue the morality all you want, I'll be happy to aid the Prosecution.

 

From the Third Geneva Convention (Link)

 

Art 13. Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest.

 

While it may or may not be considered "torture" it is a War Crime and any who try it should be prosecuted.

 

Those who consider it might be "okay" should ponder on why the Conventions were written. They are not rules that can be bent to suit a particular "ethical" or "moral" stance.

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I just want to point out that there has been experiments where monkeys were hooked up in this way. Given the choice they would always flick the switch instead of going for food or doing anything else that is important for survival, so they died.

To me this kind of technology is incredibly dangerous and should never be used, not even for therapy.

 

(end of random comment)

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  • 2 weeks later...

It is the idea of the "click", based on comic strip of Milo Manara.

I will not put the link because in the story the thing has been implanted in a woman's brain (not a dangerous terrorist) and its all about erotica.

Morality is screwed by all means.

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Now, this organization has rules against torture and cruel punishment. So, instead, it subjects the prisoner to surgery (with painkillers and proper treatment) to implant an electrode in his brain, so the interrogators can immediately stimulate it and cause pleasure. Not pain, but pleasure. They have a little dial that can turn up the level of pleasure farther than is imaginable.

 

Let's modify your scenario a bit to remove ethical concerns about unnecessary surgery:

 

The subject sits in a chair and has a device placed on his skin which creates a sensation of pleasure via transcranial magnetic stimulation. And let's just say the country in question is fairly certain it's safe.

 

In that case, it's a bit of a gray area. One can imagine they'd submit a prisoner to weeks on end of constant pleasure, then take it away, completely.

 

I imagine the withdrawal process would be pretty horrible

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Then they'd be using the withdrawal symptoms to encourage cooperation, which ends up being physical torture in the end.

 

Suppose they simply demonstrated the pleasure button's abilities once or twice, then simply told the prisoner "We'll use it as much as you want once you tell us the secret plans"?

 

In other words, no withdrawal symptoms, and the device basically isn't used unless the guy gives information. (Incidentally, this is what I described in the first post, although that seems to have been forgotten.)

 

In that case, if I were a prisoner who had nothing to tell the authorities, the bad part would be the imprisonment, not the pleasure button. Since I wouldn't experience the button -- I have nothing to tell them -- they'd just drag me into a room once a day to ask me if I've changed my mind and am willing to talk. The bad part would be the unwarranted imprisonment.

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In that case, it's a bit of a gray area.

 

No, it's not.

 

An action by the holding power that they know will cause withdrawl symptoms can only be classified as "seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody" and is prohibited.

 

Nor is such action justified by "the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest."

 

The wording is very clear. Such actions are prohibited and are considered War Crimes.

 

Suppose they simply demonstrated the pleasure button's abilities once or twice' date=' then simply told the prisoner "We'll use it as much as you want once you tell us the secret plans"?

 

In other words, no withdrawal symptoms, and the device basically isn't used unless the guy gives information. (Incidentally, this is what I described in the first post, although that seems to have been forgotten.)[/quote']

 

You might be in a "greyer" area if a non invasive device such as bascule described was used. This would then be a modification on the theme of giving the prisoner luxuries and then taking them away, promising to return them if he co-operates.

 

However I would point out that being strapped to a chair while your enemy attached things to your head would constitute a form of torture in itself. Any way you cut it this type of thing is "medical" and the prisoner would have no way to tell it was harmless and every reason to believe it was not. From the prisoners POV, you are not doing this because they have done something, but because you think he knows something.

 

You might get away with it, but I think you'd need a damn good team of lawyers.

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Even when performed under proper anasthesia, with painkillers provided and good standards of care?

 

If that's still a problem, what if I do this through some sort of transcranial magnetic stimulation, so all I have to do is put an electronic helmet on the guy? (Or electrodes applied to, er, "strategic" locations.)

 

I don't think you need to go that far. Just offer him sex with Keira Knightly (or his alternative dream woman) and I am sure he will cave pretty fast.

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The problem with torture is that it can coerce people into confessing to something they have never done in the first place, just so that it will end. While used in moderation I agree torture is useful for extracting information excessive use is counter productive and can produce false positives for information therfore being misleading.

 

If the withdrawl symptoms are that severe from lack of this "pleasure stimulus" then I would guess the prisoner would lie just to get his fix therefore rendering this procedure just as useless as regular torture.

 

As for if it is more moral or not then that depends on what side you are with. What if the prisoner holds information that could save millions of people is it moral to torture this information out of him and save millions or not tortue him and preserve his human rights, though that million people could possibly die a grisly death as a result?

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I don't think you need to go that far. Just offer him sex with Keira Knightly (or his alternative dream woman) and I am sure he will cave pretty fast.

Very true. Especially if you get the dream woman naked in the room with him. You could tell her it's for national security purposes.

 

The problem with torture is that it can coerce people into confessing to something they have never done in the first place, just so that it will end. While used in moderation I agree torture is useful for extracting information excessive use is counter productive and can produce false positives for information therfore being misleading.

 

If the withdrawl symptoms are that severe from lack of this "pleasure stimulus" then I would guess the prisoner would lie just to get his fix therefore rendering this procedure just as useless as regular torture.

 

As stated in post #6, "there are no harmful side effects. No long-term damage. Just pleasure." So no withdrawal symptoms.

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