Critical Distinctions, Please

John Henke highlights several instances of torture or mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners. He concludes:

But whenever I see supporters of the war glossing over–even praising–torture, indefinite detainment, efforts to avoid the law….and demanding no explanation from the people who authored and engaged in these things….?

Well, I wonder whether some of us are becoming the amoral participants that we profess to fight?

Now, I have no idea in the world whether any of the actions John cited actually took place, and if they did, under what circumstances or justification. I also don’t doubt that there have been unjustified abuses during this war.

But what I don’t get is how people can, on the one hand, understand the moral justification for us dropping two atomic bombs and killing over 200,000 civilians, and far more than that during the space of our fire-bombing campaigns of Tokyo, and on the other, conceive of no instance where torture of a detainee is morally justified.

Most people should not have to think very hard to come up with at least three instances where they would cheer for torture. How about your spouse, child or close relative being detained in an undisclosed location, in danger for their lives, and the perpetrator refusing to reveal their whereabouts? Would you want them tortured until they tell? Only if you’re sane, you would.

Of course, this needs to be done responsibly, deliberately, and only by professionals. Every effort should be taken to inflict the least harm possible to accomplish the job. But it’s certain that we have detainees at high-levels of the terrorist networks, and we would be morally derelict to not compel them to tell us everything they know, by whatever means possible.

It is irrational and unjustifiable to engage in torture as a means of punishment or retribution. It’s quite another to engage in it for purposes of preempting something that’s a lot worse than torture.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.