Stephen L. Carter: Torture Can Be Wrong and Still Work

Magnus Gäfgen was beaten and tortured during child-killing inquiry. (Getty)
Magnus Gäfgen was beaten and tortured during child-killing inquiry. (Getty)

The Daily Beast's Stephen L. Carter is taking on the topic of torture in the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden and how talk has now turned to torture. Carter wonders aloud that if the outcome is good, what's wrong with torture? He examines the case of Magnus Gäfgen, in which German authorities used beatings and torture to get him to confess to killing a child.


Carter learned about Gäfgen from a student and asks, if the aim of torture is to get information, then why not? What do you think about his assertion? Check out Carter's position in the excerpt below:

Unless you happen to follow the German press — or unless, as I did, you happen to have taught a German law student interested in the subject of torture — you might have missed the tale of Magnus Gäfgen, the convicted child murderer currently suing the Hesse police for beating him and threatening worse in order to extract a confession. The Gäfgen story seems quite apropos now that, in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, our national debate over the use of torture has taken a bizarre turn, from whether torture is right or wrong to whether it ever works.

Back in 2002, Gäfgen kidnapped an 11-year-old boy, Jakob von Metzler, whom he then murdered. Without disclosing that Jakob was dead, Gäfgen demanded a ransom of €1 million from the child's wealthy parents. He collected the ransom, and was arrested soon after. The police, who thought Jakob was still alive, demanded to know where he was hidden. Gäfgen refused to say. According to Gäfgen's lawsuit, they beat him, then told him a torture specialist was being flown in, a man whose training would enable him to "inflict more pain on me than I had ever experienced." At that point he confessed, telling the police that the boy was dead and where his body could be found.

Now, I am not endorsing what the authorities did in interrogating Gäfgen, but I do think it provides evidence — which should hardly be necessary — that, if the goal is to obtain information, torture sometimes works. Let me repeat that: If the goal is to obtain information, torture sometimes works. I am not saying that I like torture. I am not saying we should do it — I think we shouldn't. But to rest the moral argument against torture on the proposition that it doesn't work eventually starts to sound silly …

Read more at the Daily Beast.

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