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Many Emails On Torture


1) What really gets my goat is not that [Krauthammer] thinks “screw the terrorists, maybe sometimes we should torture them”-the terrorists are evil after all, but that he is so damn smug about this-like people who wouldn’t do what he is willing to do fail “Ethics 101.” I do believe torture should never, ever, be resorted to, ever, and if that is wrong I still am not a “pacifist.” Lastly, Krauthamer simply relied on moral feeling (you *feel* that you’d torture the terrorist in case X, right?), and bald assertions (“this is Ethics 101″). Jonah is right to point out all the moral vanity that is being thrown at him and Rich…but they should also acknowledge that a lot of moral vanity was just thrown at me (and I presume you) by Krauthamer this weekend, and that was gratuituous.

2) We may inflict suffering on the guilty if that suffering reduces the suffering of their intended victims. No one doubts the police could and should shoot a terrorist sniper as he takes aim on a target. This case is similar — the terrorist wouldn’t be in this position if he hadn’t done evil in the first place, and any suffering that results from it ought to fall on him first. If it is more suffering than we are accustomed to inflicting, it’s only because we have the unique opportunity to actually reduce someone else’s suffering.

But while I agree that an individual can morally inflict torture, I still don’t like rules permitting torture, I guess for consequential reasons. It’s all well and good to dream up hypotheticals that would justify torturing a murderer to prevent further carnage. But those hypotheticals all depend on judgment, which can often err — and institutionalizing rules around those hypotheticals presumes that our authorities will exercise their judgement infallibly. Worse, I’m afraid that their errors of judgment, and the development of their procedures, would take the justifications offered by those institutional rules would take them further and further from the hypothetical. This would be a very dangerous corruption of institutions that hold an awful lot of power, and I’m not sure I’m ready to risk it. (And I say this despite my deep trust for the individuals currently holding criminal and military authority in our nation — even if I trusted them completely, I don’t know who will replace them.)

3) What’s the difference with threatening a terrorist’s family and M.A.D.? We told the Soviets, “you nuke us, you’re gone.” The Israelis, on a smaller scale, do the same to the Palestinians. The bomber’s family usually had his or her family’s home destroyed as punishment. If anything, it’s awful, but it’s what works. I agree with M.A.D. and I agree with Israel…why shouldn’t I agree with the CIA killing a terrorist’s wife if he doesn’t talk?

4) Your torture posts illustrate why Catholics shouldn’t be placed in charge of national security. You can’t be reasonable on torture, any more than you can on abortion or Hiroshima.

5) Torture is simply a weapon to be used in times of war – provided it is used in the right way. Our soldiers use all sorts of weapons without going through long philosophical discussions about doing so… and rightly so. To take away torture as a weapon to be used in order to save American lives is as unjustifiable as taking away their M16s or artillery support because those too can cause damage to innocents.

6) The problem with this discussion is we all have a different standard of what constitutes torture. . . . Thus we go around in circles never resolving anything.