Critique for Levin's Case for Torture
There are real-world scenarios which not only allow for the use of torture, but which in fact necessitate it. This is Michael Levin's core argument in The Case for Torture (Newsweek, 1982). Levin effectively advances his argument primarily by presenting a number of hypothetical cases, designed to force the skeptical reader to question whether his opposition to torture is truly absolute. Levin's argument also relies on employing analogy as a rhetorical device and considering a number of counterarguments to his position, which he rebuts in a logical, if not incontrovertible, manner. What the casual reader may fail to notice, however, is how weak the scope of Levin's argument really is.
Levin captures his readers' attention with his
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Levin trivializes the problem of definitively determining guilt by pointing out that terrorists crave recognition, and with modern media, "40 million people [can] see a group of masked gunmen seiz[ing] an airplane on the evening news." The first question that begs asking is: if the gunmen are masked, how does that establish anyone's guilt? Yes, terrorist organizations do seek recognition for their actions, but for obvious reasons the identities of the individual terrorists involved in a mission are rarely, if ever, disclosed before the end of their mission. The second, and more important, question is: once you see the terrorists taking hostages on the news, isn't it too late to save lives by torturing them? Indeed, the reason that Levin does not raise any concrete examples is that this poses a fundamental and irresolvable contradiction: to establish someone's "obvious guilt," according to Levin's example, he must have committed an act in public view. Yet once he has committed this act that we're supposedly trying to prevent, once he's detonated his nuclear bomb in Manhattan, torturing him will not save any lives. Sure, the perpetrator might claim to have planted more bombs, but we will never know whether he is telling the truth unless they have already exploded; he cannot be "clearly guilty" of an act that has not yet been committed. Levin entirely fails to address these issues.
Levin also fails to adequately define his terms. Who can conceivably