Saturday, November 26, 2005

Unpleasant Truths About Torture

Charles Krauthammer proposes some sane thinking about torture:

Breaking the laws of war and abusing civilians are what, to understate the matter vastly, terrorists do for a living. They are entitled, therefore, to nothing. Anyone who blows up a car bomb in a market deserves to spend the rest of his life roasting on a spit over an open fire. But we don't do that because we do not descend to the level of our enemy. We don't do that because, unlike him, we are civilized. Even though terrorists are entitled to no humane treatment, we give it to them because it is in our nature as a moral and humane people. And when on rare occasions we fail to do that, as has occurred in several of the fronts of the war on terror, we are duly disgraced.

The norm, however, is how the majority of prisoners at Guantanamo have been treated. We give them three meals a day, superior medical care, and provision to pray five times a day. Our scrupulousness extends even to providing them with their own Korans, which is the only reason alleged abuses of the Koran at Guantanamo ever became an issue. That we should have provided those who kill innocents in the name of Islam with precisely the document that inspires their barbarism is a sign of the absurd lengths to which we often go in extending undeserved humanity to terrorist prisoners.

Third, there is the terrorist with information. Here the issue of torture gets complicated and the easy pieties don't so easily apply. Let's

take the textbook case. Ethics 101: A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in one hour. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist. He knows where it is. He's not talking.

Question: If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, are you permitted to do it?

Now, on most issues regarding torture, I confess tentativeness and uncertainty. But on this issue, there can be no uncertainty: Not only is it permissible to hang this miscreant by his thumbs. It is a moral duty.

Read the entire article.

Like Krauthammer, I am opposed to torture in almost every case. I am also opposed to killing. Having said that, I can imagine some situations where--if my daughter's life were at stake, for example--I would be willing to do either. Those who would condemn me because I haven't acted up to their moral standards and eschewed under any and all circumstances torture or killing someone, do so because they are trapped in some idealistic (and therefore unconnected to the real world) fantasy. They see themselves as "morally superior", but that is just a way of stroking their own egos.

I fail to see anything "superior" about an abstract, "moral system" that forces me to sacrifice my daughter's life--or the lives of thousands for that matter-- when I could have done something to prevent it. I live in a real world where choices need to be made and unpleasant realities sometimes need to be faced unflinchingly.

Like Krauthammer, I will not gnash a tooth or rend a single garment; neither will I weep or wail or even lose sleep over the use of aggressive interrogation procedures on terrorists, when such procedures might save the lives of real people living in the real world.

And that is the fundamental moral difference between the terrorist and me. He or she will kill innocents for the sake of of their ideology. I will also kill when necessary, but to protect the lives of those innocents and to prevent their enslavement to the terrorist's ideology. It is a matter of moral choice you see.

I choose to accept the responsibility of being conscious and living in the real world. The terrorist has chosen to forego that responsibility for the glory of his religion.

UPDATE: Dilbert has some pleasant suggestions for torturing appropriately managing captured terrorists that I can appreciate.

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