Michael Levin’s The Case for Torture (Review)

Michael Levin’s “The Case for Torture” argues that there are various reasons for allowing torture to exist in the United States of America. Levin would love to see society change its negative views on torture so that, under certain circumstances, torture would be permissible. The article starts off with a very brief description of how he believes society views the subject of torture as a negative thing. He leads on to oppose that way of thinking and provides three cases in which he believes torture must be administered with various reasons attempting to support his thoughts.
The hypothetical cases Levin uses range from very extreme situations, to a situation where we may sometimes see on the news. Levin makes it clear to the audience that he does not agree with torture as a punishment and focuses on exactly what it should be used for. He also stresses that there is an important difference between terrorists and victims and he believes it would stop the talk of “terrorist rights”. Levin also writes on his belief that most terrorist do their crimes for publicity and because of that, the terrorist shall be fairly easy to identify and later be tortured.
He closes the article by saying torture would cause little danger to western democracies and predicting what he believes will happen in the future. After many through readings of Michael Levin’s article, I feel the attitude he carries along thorough the article presents him as an aggressively self assured person. Most of the reasoning he gives is heavily based on pathetic appeals. The force of pathos he puts into the reader is very compelling but does not fulfill the argument as well as it should because of the lack of good logic and reasoning. Levin uses three main points to convince readers why torture should be used.

The first major point includes three hypothetical cases as big reason to why it‘s important. His second point explains the reason for the need of torture. Finally he states who gets to receive the torturing and briefly describes what the outcome may be. Levin’s biggest point is generated from the three hypothetical cases he provides the reader with. In my opinion, they are clearly work more as an emotional example and not a sound reason. The 1st case is one in which an atomic bomb is planted on Manhattan Island and will blow at noon. The suspect demands money and release of his friends from jail.
He is caught at 10 A. M. and the man won’t disclose any information on the bomb. “What do you do” (201)? The 2nd case speaks of a bomb on a jumbo jet. The suspect’s demands cannot be met. Won’t we do anything to the extortionist to the save the passengers (201)? The 3rd hypothetical case is provided with results from a four person poll. The case is one in which a newborn baby is kidnapped from a hospital. Would you allow the torturing of the kidnapper in order to get him back? I feel that all three hypothetical situations have something about them that do not make me feel convinced.
The first situation in which the bomb is planted Manhattan Island seems too unrealistic due to reasons that you don’t always hear of this kind of stuff on the news and also that the bomber is captured. Even if a person demands money and release of his friends from jail, Levin does not explain how somebody would go about finding this person wherever he is hiding? Levin also has a very weak spot in explaining the situation because when he speaks of the bomber, he says “Preferring death to failure – Won’t disclose where the bomb is. ”(201).
Saying to readers he prefers death to failure would logically mean that, even if tortured, the man is still not going to disclose the information because he would rather die than failing his mission in receiving his needs. The second situation’s weakness’ comes from a lack of critical information and once again the rareness of the situation. The situation involves a Jumbo Jet in which a bomb has been planted which can be defused ONLY by the bomber which is in police custody. Levin says “Surely we can, we must, do anything to the extortionist to save the passengers” (201).
Once again, what exactly is torture going to do in this situation if the bomb is in the air on the plane? How exactly is the bomb going to be defused? I feel that this situation could have made much better of an argument if he would have taken the time to clear up exactly how the bomb was going to get defused. Later in the paragraph Levin adds in, “If you caught the terrorist, could you sleep nights knowing that millions died because you couldn’t bring yourself to apply the electrodes? “(201). It is clearly an emotionally loaded sentence.
He purposely italicizes the word “you” because he wants you to sink into that thought and make you feel really bad about the situation. The third hypothetical case, which I consider weakest, is explained with results of an informal poll based on the situation. In the poll, four mothers are asked if they would approve the torturing of the kidnapper that kidnaps their child if that were necessary to get them back. All four mothers said they would approve of it. I feel this argument does not give a great example of what makes torture acceptable.
It is more of an example to show what someone would do for their loved ones. Its weakness is clearly seen in the number of participants in the poll that he is using and in the biased opinion they most likely already had. The best part of Levin’s reasoning is expressed when he speaks of why exactly he believes torture should be accepted and not viewed upon as something horrible. In the article, Levin says “I am advocating torture as an acceptable measure for preventing future evils. ”(201). He does a good job of making it clear exactly what he means.
In doing so, he briefly explains an argument he believes people against the death penalty use. The argument is that by killing the murderer, you are not bringing back the victim that was killed. Levin explains that instead of killing after a murder has occurred, he advocates that torturing someone stops the innocent from being dispatched. Levin makes it clear that torture should ONLY be used for the saving of lives. This leads to what he believes is the most powerful argument against torture. People would insist that such practices disregard the rights of the individual.
Levin first counter-argument is presented when he says “Well, if the individual is all that important, and he is, it is correspondingly important to protect the rights of individuals threatened by terrorist. “(201). It seemed like a very sound argument to me because of the way he used anti-torture line to support his pro-torture argument. Levin later says “Unlike his victims, he (the terrorist) volunteered the risks of his deed. By threatening to kill for profit or idealism, he renounces civilized standards, and he can have no complaint if civilization tries to thwart him by whatever means necessary. (202).
He thinks if a person decides to oppose civilized standards, he should not expect to be treated with the same rights as the people who do follow civilized standards. Although it sounds reasonable, he does make an assumption here. Levin assumes that the suspect KNOWS they are going against civilized standards. Does this mean that a sociopath that cannot distinguish between civilized standards would not be tortured? I feel a bit more of clarification could help this argument. Levin addresses the issue of torturing the wrong person.
He starts off by making an assumption terrorist proclaim themselves and perform for television and public recognition. Levin says “After all, you can’t very well intimidate a government into releasing your freedom fighters unless you announce that it is your group that has seized its embassy. ”(202). It is just another hypothetical situation to bend things his way without providing documented evidence of a real life situation where the terrorist actually identified themselves. It is as though in his eyes, he thinks finding the right perpetrator is a very simple task.
Finally, in the last paragraph he says “There will be little danger that the western democracies will lose their way if they choose to inflict pain as a way of preserving order. I noticed that his claim seems a bit modified in the last paragraph. Levin starts the article speaking of torture ONLY for the saving of innocent lives, but now, he speaks of torture for preserving order. Does this broaden up the whole claim? He also predicts that someday soon many lives will be threatened and torture will be the only way to save them.
This prediction is supported by no evidence what so ever and is clearly only to provide fear to the person reading it. The discussion of key terms was decent in this article. When he speaks of torture the closest description I found that define torture to Levin is: “Subjecting someone to the most excruciating pain. ” This may seem like a great description of what we see as torture but the example of torture he mentions is “having the electrodes applied”. I really wasn’t sure what he was referring to until I looked it up online and read that electrodes are what kill you in the electric chair.
I believe he did not provide any better example of this because it can very well make a reader oppose of the torturing right away if he speaks of a more gruesome example. Levin also uses the word moral cowardice to describe allowing the death of millions of innocent lives. He does a good job by explaining that it means the unwillingness of dirtying ones hands. Regarding tone and ethos, the author starts off taking a big risk by introducing the topic of torture as something societies reject outright, then saying he opposes the beliefs of society on that topic. Not only does he just oppose it, he says it is unwise.
I think by doing that, he may give the reader a sense that he thinks only his beliefs are wise and that he does not respect any other ideas. Throughout the article, Levin continues to carry the attitude of a know it all. Levin says “Opponents of the death penalty, for example are forever insisting that executing a murderer will not bring back his victim. “(201). In case you didn’t notice, he says “forever insisting”. This presents an assumption in a way to make it seem like fact that death penalty opponents ALWAYS insist executing will not bring back his victim.
Not only does his statement risk offending the death penalty opponents, it can also continue to promote his know it all attitude which can surely annoy other people too. Another occasion of his overly aggressive attitude is when he says “Once you concede that torture is justified in extreme cases, you have admitted that the decision to use torture is a matter of balancing innocent lives against the means needed to save them. “(201). Whether or not it makes sense, he is clearly making an assumption that we admit to something by agreeing on another thing. The way he worded that may seem a bit too aggressive for a general audience.
On the other hand, some people can also see that attitude as a good thing because they feel the person they are listening to actually knows what they are talking about. Even though he carries the cocky attitude through most of the article, when it comes to speaking of his hypothetical cases he tries to change his tone to more of an emotional one that is more likely to affect the reader. This however is a good thing, because it can make the reader a bit more vulnerable to falling into his emotional example. Ultimately then “The Case for Torture” is very mixed in effectiveness.
The hypothetical cases sound a bit too rare and unlikely to appen but it can cause the audience to think it out. Only minor elements of his reasoning are sound and effective. But his reasoning needs a bit more of support from some other place and his hypothetical situations can certainly use some actually documentation of the occurrences he speaks of. I do not believe this essay does the total job in changing people’s minds from anti-torture to pro-torture. But I do think that the people who were already anti-torture surely hate this guy a bit more especially because of the attitude. I think this essay leaves a large amount of places for it to be attacked by a person who does not believe in torture.

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