As reasonably remarked by Holmes, (2007) it is important to take into consideration numerous factors, and when speaking of the factors, related to this particular question it is that this issue is mainly debated referring situations of war or counter terrorism. It is questionable, whether or not it is acceptable to torture an agent of an enemy when such actions may result in preventing the enemy’s aggressive actions or bringing their effect to a minimum. And in this respect there is no exact answer. The answer depends on the system of values one uses when making a moral decision.
From the point of view of utilitarianism such tortures are entirely acceptable and excusable, as they lead to well being of a large number of people when compared to sufferings of only one person or a small group of people.
From the point of view of Kantian ethics it is unacceptable to torture anybody since an agent, who would give such an order or would implement the torture itself would not desire to be a subject of such tortures themselves. As for virtue ethics, those who share this approach may consider the torture unacceptable, since it is not virtuous to do so. However, the history knows that through suffering the way to excellence lies, and excellence, as understood by many ancient philosophers, is one of the basic virtues (Hursthouse, 2013). This is why in some way tortures may be seen as acceptable, excusable for the developing the virtues of the tortured enemies.
Christian ethics will by no means accept torturing or find an excuse for it, as the main virtue of Christianity is forgiveness, and Christians are encouraged to forgive even their enemies, particularly their enemies.
I particularly find utilitarian approach the most acceptable in this case, as it is focused on the well-being of the majority, and the answer for this question is to be given by the people, responsible for the well-being of the countries or even entire continents. Their duty is to mind first of all and only the interests of the majority, and thus no other approach except utilitarianism is acceptable in this situation.
- Holmes, A. F. “Ethics: Approaching moral decisions”. (2nd ed.). Downers Grove, IL. (2007). InterVarsity Press. ISBN: 9780830828036.
- Hursthouse, Rosalind. “Virtue Ethics”. In Zalta, Edward N., ed. “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy” (Fall 2013 ed.). Available at http://plato.stanford.edu