Is torture ever right?

The question I want to ask is: Is Torture ever a reasonable course of action?

Consider the fact that even when it comes to interrogations, pretty much every military acknowledges that torturing a target almost never results in useful information, and often comes out with false information and confessions.
Thus, the only times torture has been employed during war, is when an enemy wants you to say negative things about your own country, or as a form of punishment and demoralization.

I mostly ask, because at one point in my story, my main character ends up torturing an already defeated enemy, mostly for the sake of demoralizing them. There were some mixed reactions from my readers, but it did get me thinking: Is torture really ever justified?

RE: Is torture ever right?

If it helps develop a character (villain or hero) then yes because we're all horrified at vivid details of torture and assumes the author is a psychopath for writing something of the sort. If it just for fun, you can just mentioned it in passing. I generally like to read about one scene of torture in a dark story just to know that the author is being serious. Rape is good too, but too much will just be too depressed.

Just write one short vivid scene and glossed over the rest until people starting to forget all about it. By the way, rape is a special kind of evil so if you're going to do rape during torture, the person who did it is irredeemable. The person who receiving it will be mind broken. There's no going back from that one unless Plot Armors: "I wasn't myself".

Meh, that's shitty writing. My own stories have plenty of rape/pillage/torture/plundering scenes later on just to depict the dark nature of the world and the massive conflicts. Glossing over that shit is unrealistic.

RE: Is torture ever right?

I'll try to maintain an objective view for the sake of the argument.

Dictionary Wrote: tor·ture
1. The action or practice of inflicting severe pain on someone as a punishment or to force them to do or say something, or for the pleasure of the person inflicting the pain.
Strictly speaking, torture is as defined above. Now let's move onto answering your question.

"Is Torture ever a reasonable course of action?"
- It depends on your sense of reason, motives, and moral compass.

Morally, torture typically falls under the wrong category. Causing one suffering after the fact that they have been defeated/captured usually isn't seen as right or just. It's essentially kicking a guy while he's down. Another sense of morals, however, could see torture as a valid tool of persuasion given the time, place, and occasion.

Reason: There are a multitude of reasons a person can do things, torture included. One is to punish somebody. Inflicting pain may "teach them a lesson". Torture may also "persuade" them to do something such as tell you secrets, plans, or even coerce them into assisting you in other ways. Another, yet fully valid reason, is simply for the sake of inflicting pain. Different strokes for different folks, but seriously, if you can think it, there are people who find pleasure in it. Reason then brings up motives.

Motives are more specifically the reasons for doing something. If you really really really need some government secret within the next 15 minutes, it may or may not be your only option. Again, you could be doing it to punish or "teach" a lesson. And lastly, is the potential pleasure one derives from the act of torture.

All in all, a proper answer is vague at best: It depends.

For a more personal answer, torture is generally against my moral compass, but I can see the reasoning behind it, even if I find it disagreeable. Note that I am not saying that it's right or wrong here, but torture is just another tool of many within the realm of punishment, persuasion, education, and enjoyment.

Interpret my answer as you will.

RE: Is torture ever right?

We dont torture people in real life....I hope. *looks at others skeptically*

This is a fiction and there can be so many methods of torture as you can think of. What if people in your world can read each others minds as a basic form of magic. What if each person had to learn to protect their minds from such intrusions. That already brings in another form of torture where you can plant memories and things into the guys mind while you break it in order to extract the real information.

Once again though it depends on how you want to portray your MC how far are they willing to go for their goals and all that.

RE: Is torture ever right?

Like what Mr. Noodle Lord (j0nn0) said, torture whether torture is right or wrong isn't the right question here. The question in my opinion is 'When is it necessary to torture someone?" It all depends on the character you are writing, what their moral compass is, how far they are willing to go to accomplish their goals, etc. Morally torture will never be right, but if torture isn't effective why is it a thing?

When you're out of time and need information, if someone's life is on the line; you need information and you need it fast. The interrogation and possibly torture of an enemy might be the most efficient option. Do you need to instill punishment for an individual that does not deserve swift death? Do you want to make them feel the most worst pain you could imagine to atone for their sins? Torture. Maybe your character is a closet or open sadist well... you know what comes next.

Morally torture will always be wrong. But 8/10 times I am sure you will get the result you will want, it just depends on how long it takes to break said victim's mind.

RE: Is torture ever right?

Is torture ever right? I refer you to the hearing in the US Senate on exactly that question about the latest real life experiment with torture in a democracy. Cutely called "Coercive Interrogation Techniques". (Source below)

Summary conclusion of "field work" experience from the hearing:
Torture does not work on strong willed person while weak willed person will lie, exaggerate truths and invent stories because they are in terror*. It is a nice evening read *Irony off.

For formal Reference: "Serial No. J–110–98" on June 10. 2008 "Hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary of US Senate"

Rant about the results: We had the well documented Catholic Inquisition in Europe. So the results are not suprising or new. Must be the famous US education translated into policy. *Rant off.

Logically speaking: Is torture ever right?
No, because it might be you one day who gets tortured. Healthy self-interest should keep anyone from doing it.

Morally: Is torture ever right?

Utilitarian strand: Torture one life to save many is permissable. The greater good argument.
All other philosophical/religious strands: No. because to qoute someone

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

RE: Is torture ever right?

Interesting replies and evidence to back it up as well.

Common sense dictates torture does not work and is wrong in many ways, yet do we write stuff based on common sense?

What if an MC can delve into the mind of the one he is interrogating?

What if he has the ability to detect when someone is lying or to read their emotions, aura's etc.

Is torture ever right? Wrong question.

Is torture ever right for your MC? That is the right question. An MC in a mid-evil time does not have the studies mentioned. He does not have the same morals we do unless he was taught said morals.

As I said before, concentrate on how you want to portray your character. Is he a guy that will do anything to achieve his goals? Is he a hero that looks down on torture but must now do it because he feels he has no choice. How does it effect him/her.

A perfect MC is boring and unreal, showing how your character is struggling with things not just physically but emotionally makes him/her real and believable.

This is fiction not real life comparing the two to each other limits your imagination. That is all within perspective of course.

RE: Is torture ever right?

Asking if torture is ever right is pointless because there just won't ever be a clear cut answer for questions like that one.

Is torture ever useful ? That's up to debate.

I may go a little bit off topic , since I'll bring up a manga and I apologize if someone is offended , but if you want an example where torture was used to bring emotional changes & evolutions you can take Tokyo Ghoul.

So yeah , as far as I'm concerned , torture is very useful and can bring light to a bland and common character (backed up by some nice story telling and interesting ideas ).

But is it right ? I'm just a scrub , I wouldn't dare to even try and answer that one kek

RE: Is torture ever right?

*This turned into somewhat of a rant and off tangentish rant. You have been warned*

Rephrasing the question to:

'Is torture ever right in writing?'

Depends on the type of torture. Some are less desireable then others, like say being put in an iron maiden compared to something like chaining a person up and not giving them food or water for a day.

I've 'read' a story on RRL about some VR game that had a MC being helped by some players, only to find out they were going to rape him(which he apparently threw some glass dust at one of the guys or all of them.....I feel bad for the rapists more then the MC, considering the reasoning about the 'rapists' is still hearsay from a NEW character that just entered the writing who 'saved' him from these 'rapists'!)Apparently they did this to many new players and sold videos about it... I can't help but think now the MC was one of the STUPIDEST HUMANS ALIVE for NOT checking if the VR game/VR world  HAD THOSE SETTINGS ALLOWED.

(I had discomfort for that story... was so stupid for reading it to chapter 5.... but i did want to know how the story was going and it twisted to... THATTT!)

But i'm getting off topic. But I would say on average, no.

Evil for the sake of evil is just bad writing.

It is usually done to  a terrible effect to justify an MC being all 'righteousness! I won't let you do that and get away with it!' and precede to own the villain, when a villain  rapes or tortures. But the problem is if the sole reason the villain is going to get their ass kicked by the MC because they did JUST this and you(the writer) have written the villain that way, it just makes the reader look at the 'bad' guy  as a one dimensional villain who defining trait 'they are evil BECAUSE they raped or tortured!'

It's the same reason why I hate arrogant bull**** antagonists that many writers made back when I actually read stories on here(although I'm sure it's still being done..).Same idea, same result: One dimensional Villain.

You can only take so saturation of  'the arrogant and snobby guy picks on the MC and the MC must beat him because this guy was made INTENTIONALLY snobby who also has no character to speak of besides being arrogant and snobby' before you just give up.

The  'arrogant and snobby attitude' is even WORSE on MC's though... No likability AT ALL. Why bother to continue reading if I don't even like the MC? You would need to move Heaven and Earth to make them 'likeable'. Instant drop!*

Heck, I can think of least 5 stories in the Top 50(Best Rated)  here on RRL that did some of the above.

RE: Is torture ever right?

Torture is wrong.

But it happened, even in real life. And if it happens in real life, I don't see any reason why it should never happen in fiction as well. After all we draw our writing materials from real life.


If your mc tortured his enemy to demoralize them.

Then depend in how your mc's character is, I think you need to explain why he reach that decision. How he did it and how it affected him, both during the torture and the after.

As long as it's not being there with reasonable explanation and have certain purpose (character growth, etc), I think it's acceptable.

RE: Is torture ever right?

If you know/are certain that someone is guilty and has the information you need to save lives... then I see no problem with grilling him. (If he is receptible to torture. Whatever people say about ineffectiveness, it's up to the person. I am sure that there are certain characters who spill everything as soon as you put a needle into one of their eyes.)

Example 1: Suicide Bomber attempt went wrong and the offender got caught. You could get information on his network, connections and helpers. Fry the maniac if he proves receptable to torture.
Example 2: Child abductor gets caught. You know that he is guilty, but he doesn't give away the location of the victim. (There are real life cases like that.) Put him to the question.

It may be harsh and make me a maniac in some eyes, but I would have no problem with wringing information out of certain people in certain situations where life is at stake. Morals be damned. Someone who is against torture in all its forms and circumstances is just a hypocrite. Endangering lives to protect someone who has proven to be a maniac is like a failure to render assistance.

PS: And in books everything goes what the author wants to do. If he wants to prove a point about a character then it's a viable literary instrument.

RE: Is torture ever right?

Torture can be both right and wrong, it merely depends on the situation. I would say if its done systematically with the reason being a very valid one, and the goal being non-personal with pain being used sparingly then its a degree. If torturing the person is only done for fun or revenge (no matter how good it feels) then its not.

Torture for written stories is slightly different though. Whether its right or wrong only depends on justification vs. gruesomeness. If you can get us readers to feel super sympathetic for the MC or that the MC has the right to torture the person then you can get away with a lot of...nasty stuff and most of us would probably go "FINALLY!!!"

RE: Is torture ever right?

Torture is a plot device. It's neither right nor wrong. Depending on your usage of torture, your readers may identify with it in different ways. There's no need to question the rightness or wrongness of torture. The only things you need to care about are:

1) Is torture suitable in this scene and in this story?
2) Does the person doing the torture have the capacity to conduct torture?
3) How will this enrich the story?

I've seen many stories ruined from misplaced torture. I've also seen some stories deemed shallow because the author censors torture. For example, torture is never suitable in a sweet romance, unless it's SM play and even then it may be unsuitable, depending on the characters involved. If you're writing a fantasy setting in a medieval-like setting, you should expect some scenes of torture. Before the crusades, the concept of chivalry in Europe was nonexistent, they actually learned that concept from the enemies they were fighting, the  muslim army under the leadership of Saladin.

EDIT: Anyway, if torture doesn't get you what you want to know. You're doing it wrong. It always work. Everyone has a tolerance level. Keeping a person in a dark space for a month is also a method of torture, despite it not being violent. I have studied medieval torture methods for the sake of writing a now-discarded story. I can tell you that medieval torture is crude and you may be forgiven for thinking that it doesn't work. We have learned a lot within the past 500 years and there are plenty of methods of torture which when combined can make a person tell you what you want to know (with a degree of error or misinformation) eventually. These days, special ops are specifically trained to resist common torture methods, but even they have a tolerance level before they break, only it's higher than the average person.

Just an example of non-violent torture:
1) Keeping a person in a dark room for a year, then releasing him only to tell him his country has been destroyed. He will be more willing to tell you things once he lost the focus of his allegiance.
2) Running a chalk on the blackboard, creating that god-awful sound.
3) Keeping the person suspended in chains for long periods of time. You don't need to stretch him. After a week, his muscles will ache and every movement will hurt like hell.
4) Feed him only water, sugar and small amount of salt. After two weeks his body will hurt all over and his mind will be putty, easy to interrogate.
5) Forcing adults to watch Barney the Purple Dinasour on a 12 hour marathon.

RE: Is torture ever right?

Okay first time posting but I feel like I need to weigh in on this.  As was posted earlier in the thread, torture doesn't get you reliable information.  The puerile opinion stated above that if torture isn't working then you're not trying hard enough is patently false.  However I don't mind the idea of a character torturing if it's something that the character would do.  If you can pull it off in a way that doesn't seem forced, congrats. 

The issue I have is not with the idea of a character torturing, it's with the reward they get for it.  Because while torture in real life doesn't work, torture in fiction ALWAYS works.  It's just such a convenient plot device because it heightens the drama, shocks the audience, allows for the display of lots of emotion from all parties involved, and generates a turning point through whatever revelation the torture unearths.  It can be used to show how evil a character is, or set up a "damsel in distress" situation, or show how much of a moral sacrifice good guys are willing to make in order to "protect the ones they love"/"save the world"/"stop the assassination of the President".  And it's so often justified in the story, because it's set up where it's the only way they can get the info, and the other characters are just to "weak" or whatnot to "cross the line that needs to be crossed" or whatever.  The info they get saves the world or whatever, and everybody is like "well I guess it's a good thing you did that horrible stuff".  Because who wants the good guys to become monsters without at least getting something important out of it?

Just once I would love to have the MC character do all this horrible stuff, only to get incorrect information and have it ruin everything.  That would crack me up.  They get the location of the bomb after cutting off a few fingers or something, they rush over with time winding down, and there's nothing there because the guy who they were torturing just wanted to make the pain stop so he told them whatever he could think of to make it all end.

RE: Is torture ever right?

"It's just such a convenient plot device because it heightens the drama, shocks the audience, allows for the display of lots of emotion from all parties involved, and generates a turning point through whatever revelation the torture.  It can be used to show how evil a character is, or set up a "damsel in distress" situation, or show how much of a moral sacrifice good guys are willing to make in order to "protect the ones they love"/"save the world"/"stop the assassination of the President"

Nice summary of Jack Bauer and the 24 hours series :D 

So far I have not read ONE! Story on RRL where tortured seemed
a.) appropiate given the societal context,
b.) consistent with MC character development,
c.) helped the story as plot turning device
d.) Information could have been obtained otherwise. Especially with all these Magic stories about magic oaths, mind reading etc.

If anyone has read sth. well done in this regard, I would be interested in seeing a list so I can check it out for myself.