How Liberals Justify Torture

How Liberals Justify Torture

by Susan Rosenthal

In “The Tortured Patient: A Medical Dilemma,” authors Chiara Lepora and Joseph Millum argue that “sometimes being complicit [with torture] is the right thing to do.”

The authors concede that

“Torture is unethical and usually counterproductive. It is prohibited by international and national laws.”

However, they dance around this prohibition by re-defining the torture victim as “a patient in need of treatment.”

“To accede to the requests of the torturers may entail assisting or condoning terrible acts. But to refuse care to someone in medical need may seem like abandoning a patient and thereby fail to exhibit the beneficence expected of physicians.”

This is a liberal justification for torture.

Just because medical professionals are asked to assist with torture does not transform the torture victim into a patient and the torture chamber into a medical consulting room.

Conservative, right-wing logic accepts torture as necessary, pointing out that torture is widely practiced in one-third of the world’s nations.

Liberal logic condemns torture, but accepts it as a “reality” to which one must adapt. Liberals talk left in order to move right.

In Disciplined Minds, Jeff Schmidt explains that professional education has a dual purpose: to teach specific skills; and to mold a managerial class to serve capitalism.

“When the professional training system does not malfunction, it selects and produces people who are comfortable surrendering political control over their work, people who are not deeply troubled by the status quo and are willing and able to do work that supports it.” (p.144)

In Professional Poison (2009) I explain that,

“When moral pressure fails to solve the problem, professionals will “adapt to reality” and become the managers of misery.” (p. 10)

Should we assist at a premeditated beating or rape to help the victim survive the assault? Of course not. That would make us accomplices to a criminal act.

Likewise, anyone who assists at torture is complicit in the crime, regardless of their reasons for doing so.

See also: Bahrain medical staff ‘tortured for confessions’

Post Script

The American Psychological Association has rejected a complaint against a psychologist involved in the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Dr. John Leso took part in the interrogation of Mohammed al-Qahtani, whose terror charges were later dropped because of the brutality he endured.

Stephen Soldz, a Boston-based psychologist, called Leso’s involvement in torture “probably the clearest, most documented case [of psychologist] participation in abuse that we’re going to have.”

In its decision, the American Psychological Association did not deny Leso’s involvement in torture, saying only, “we have determined that we cannot proceed” with the case.


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