Sleep Deprivation Debate: Torture or Semantics – By Ryan Mahon and Jingxuan Chi


Question 1:

The central argumentative point is politicians should not support sleep-deprivation as a method of interrogating terror suspects as it is seen as a form of torture.

The article’s central argumentative point is based on a claim of evaluation as a value author of the article has passed judgement onto Phillip Ruddock and his assertions about sleep deprivation not constituting torture. McPhedran then contrasts Phillip Ruddock’s statement with a statement made by the Prime Minister of the time, John Howard, who does not support sleep deprivation in all cases of interrogation.


Question 2:

Opinion is used in terms of the character assassination of Phillip Ruddock, as the article repeatedly criticises him without backing up the claims with significant reference. McPherson only attributes a seven-word quote to Ruddock and based an entire article off of that quote. McPherson’s attack on Phillip Ruddock would have to constitute opinion.

An example of this is in the second paragraph when Ian says, “Before that he was a Sydney solicitor. He has presumably enjoyed a comfortable night’s sleep, many of them at the taxpayer’s expense, most night for the past 33 years”, he was making an assumption about Ruddock and implied that he would not understand the pain of sleep deprivation because he has a had a comfortable life thanks to the taxpayer.

However, I would consider McPherson’s arguments regarding the definition of sleep deprivation as torture or interrogation is grounded in research. The author quotes the United Nations, uses an analogy from a World War Two digger, attributes information from the Australian Federal Police and from the Prime Minister at the time. The primary purpose of this section of the article is the persuade the readership with an argument using information from the sources cited above. Therefore, we believe that generally, this article is more an argument than it is an opinion piece.


Question 3:

Yes, the author has explicit asserted the statement of the text’s principal argument, being that sleep deprivation is a form of torture. The author has most likely assumed that the readership would not all have a deep-enough knowledge on the subject, but that, given the global political climate at the time, would have been opposed to the notion of torture, but they may have been unaware of the semantics of what torture is.

In paragraph 4 McPherson wrote, “In 197, the United Nations Committee Against Torture specifically rules that the extended deprivation of sleep did indeed constitute torture” to indicate his stand in classifying sleep deprivation as torture. Since he associates sleep deprivation with torture, he is implying to his readership that he is opposed to all forms of torture, including sleep deprivation.


Question 4:

The key contentious definition in the article e was sleep deprivation as McPherson outlines the impact it has on the human body. This definition is heavily supported with McPhedran’s own justification as he alludes to what he constitutes as sleep deprivation several times throughout the article from the third par until the final par of the article.

A contentious definition in the article is torture. As the definition of torture would result in determining whether or not sleep deprivation can be categorised as torture. The definition that the author has used is one that is widely accepted by the international community, but it still one that is concordant with the views in his article.

Interrogation has also been loosely defined as a tool used when interviewing terror suspects. The definition provides a comparison between interrogation and torture with the assertion that interrogation is the, ‘lesser of two evils’ or a more humane option than torture in the war on terror.


Question 5:

Article’s primary claim: Sleep deprivation is considered a form of torture and governments should stop trying to justify it.

Justification 1: (type- Appeal to authority)

‘In 1997, the United Nations Committee Against Torture specifically ruled that the extended deprivation of sleep did indeed constitute torture.’ – The United Nations is a global authority and they should set a precedent for what countries can and cannot do.

Justification 2: (type- Appeal to ethical, legal or other social norms [negative consequences])

‘Interrogation is an important tool in the fight, but politicians shouldn’t try to justify torture and therefore lower us to the level of our enemies.’ – Notion that we as a society have civil and moral responsibilities to everyone in society, even those that we are detaining. There is an allusion to the golden rule.

Sub-Claim: Politicians are out of touch with society

Justification 1: (type- analogy)

‘…when politicians leave their ivory towers’- Implies that politicians are out of touch with their constituency.

Justification 2: (type- ethical norms)

‘NEW lows in political cant and hypocrisy have been reached in the debate over sleep deprivation and whether it qualifies as torture’ – Critiquing the ethical practices of politicians and how they reach their policy outcomes and how they form their outlooks on the world.

Question 6:

Justification 1 Warrant: We should trust the authority of the United Nations (as an IGO).

Justification 2 Warrant: It is wrong to torture people and hypocritical to try justifying it.

Question 7:

  • “Before that he was a Sydney solicitor. He has presumably enjoyed a comfortable night’s sleep, many of them at taxpayers’ expense, most nights for the past 33 years.” We believe that this is Ad Hominem argument because this is implying that he is justifying torture because Ruddock has never suffered any discomfort himself.
  • It would have to be the opinion of McPhedran that, ‘new lows in political cant and hypocrisy’ have been achieved because it would be something difficult to quantify and would depend on the view of the reader. The author has simply used this to try to add veracity to his argument, without backing up his claim.
  • The information regarding the effects of sleep deprivation have not attributable source, as I believe McPhedran would be assuming the readership would take this information in good faith. I do not believe that this would negatively impact on his argument.