My friends' attitudes towards torture

I wanted to test the hypothesis that people would think torture is more justifiable for convicts/felons, i.e. people who did commit crimes in the past.

I decided to throw a question to my Facebook friends. Just for the fun of it and to see if this would result in anything interesting.

The questions were sent to 248 Facebook friends. My friends were randomly split in to two groups, each were presented with a slightly different question.

The questions were made of a torture story and a rating scale from 1 to 10 about its justifiability. The question was not of the ticking time bomb or terrorist scenario. And it was not known if the torture did work for extracting a confession or not.

Scenario A:

A 34 years old male was apprehended. He is a suspect in a crime were two young kids were killed. He is known to be a drug abuser and has spent jail time for raping a middle aged woman 10 years ago. For some unknown reason, the police officer investigating the case is 100 percent sure that he is the murderer. During the interrogation, he refused to speak. The police officer decided to beat him with a wooden stick on his back. He was left for 48 hours without food. We don't know yet if the suspect confessed or not.

On a scale from 1 to 10, do you think the methods used by the police officer were justifiable.

Scenario B:

A 34 years old male was apprehended. He is a suspect in a crime were two young kids were killed. He is known to be a married plumber and it was his first to time to enter a police station. For some unknown reason, the police officer investigating the case is 100 percent sure that he is the murderer. During the interrogation, he refused to speak. The police officer decided to beat him with a wooden stick on his back. He was left for 48 hours without food. We don't know yet if the suspect confessed or not.

On a scale from 1 to 10, do you think the method used by the police officer was justifiable.

Mean value for scenario A was higher (2.13) than scenario B (1.72)

32 responded to scenario A and 36 responded to scenario B. 31.6% of both groups found some torture justifiable. Mean value for scenario A was higher (2.13) than scenario B (1.72). That is more people did justify some form of torture for the guy who spent time in jail and is known to be a drug abuser than the married plumber. However, the difference between the two groups was not statistically significant.

So I can't accept the hypothesis I put to test. However, the fact that 31.6% of my friends think that some form of torture is justifiable took me by surprise.

It is important to mention though that the framing of the question, probably motivated the answerer to denounce torture. Also, the question ignored people who might be undecided.

Despite the fact that 36% of my Facebook friends are physicians and some of them consider themselves aware of human rights issues. (I don't know who chose what) The value of 31.6% is worse than what a large worldwide survey conducted by the BBC and the PIPA was published in 2006. Which showed that 29 percent of a large sample from different parts of the world think governments should be allowed to use some degree of torture in order to combat terrorism.

It is however unfair to say that my friends are more complicit (if I can use this term), as my question was different in its form from the ones presented in that survey.

I want to mention that I avoided the ticking time bomb scenario because I think it irrelevant in a country like Egypt. Where more wide spread and self perpetuating torture is practiced. With reasons varying from punishment, humiliation, rule of law problems and --rarely-- interrogations.

The ticking bomb scenario claims that torture might be necessary to save lives of hundreds while interrogating a terror suspect. It is necessary, they say, to break his will and to save the lives of others.