There’s been a lot of talk about torture lately, and in every discussion, the implicit assumption is that torture is something that no civilized society would ever, ever do under any circumstances. Even people on the “pro” side of the debate aren’t really torture supporters. They still say torture is horrible, they just argue either a) whatever was done, it didn’t rise (or sink) to the level of torture, or b) we are in a dangerous era in which terrible acts must be used to stop more terrible acts. But no one who I’ve seen has bothered to explain why torture is inherently wrong.
Well, here at The Cynical Christian, we’re all about picking apart assumptions. So let’s ask the question this way: Is it wrong to use violence, or the threat of violence, to extract information that can be used to prevent violence against others? If so, why?
To some it may sound like a stupid question, but if it’s so obvious I’d like to hear a serious explanation. I know there have been tons of philosophical chin-scratchings on the subject, but I’d like to see some practical application of that in the current debate. The only things that come close to an argument are bumper sticker cliches like, “If we torture terrorists, we’re no better than they are.” Really? If someone slaps around a terrorist to get information about a plot to bomb a shopping mall, then the slapper is no better than the bomber? Please. Anyone who would say that has a pretty shaky grasp on the concept of morality.
Context is important: we’re not talking about the Soviet-style practice of torturing people to extract “confessions” of their crimes against the state. We’re talking about acquiring information that can be verified and acted on for the protection of others, both military and civilians.
And if torturing someone means that you’re evil, what does it mean when you refuse to use every option at your disposal to stop an evil plot–a bombing, an ambush, a murder–so that you can maintain your own sense of moral superiority? It’s easy to say “I oppose torture,” just like it’s easy to say “Our children are the future!” or “I love puppies!” But explain why that opposition is worth the sacrifice of the lives of innocents.
I’d love to get some serious comments on this, if anyone’s interested. For some further reading, Instapundit has some links to various thoughts on torture, and how opinions change, or don’t, with the times.