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DSS Hubris argues that torture can be justified as self-defense.

Here’s a long, thoughtful email:

“It seems to me that the primarly moral reason to resist torturing innocents in this case has as much to do with their innocence as it does to do with the nature of torture itself. While I could see a certain amount of psychological pressure being placed upon such individuals to encourage them and the terrorist to reveal the crucial information, if one is to differentiate between the allowance of torture against a terrorist and an innocent the moral complicity of the individual in the actual terrorist act seems to be the primary reason for the difference.

“If that is an accurate summation of the difference (and I apologize for overstating the obvious to this point) then it is the moral complicity of the terrorist would seem to allow actions to be taken against them against the lives of those who would be killed by the terrorist act.

“I think the problem I’m having is the connection you’re drawing between the acknowledged prohibition on the torture of innocents and the limits that you state are arguable in regards to the terrorist themselves. Mind, I agree to some extent that there are always limits to what can be done in such a situation, but I think the usefulness of the ticking bomb scenario is precisely because it forces us to come up against those limits and examine just what we might do or not do, just as alternative scenarios (the bomb has been located but the only way to get to it in time would involve destroying a building that could not be evacuated in time, resulting in loss of life, etc.) test our moral boundaries and the ways in which we might respond in extreme situations.

“However, while some scenarios seemingly threaten to lead us into a series of utilitarian end games, the ticking bomb and torture scenario is firmly set in the context of the moral complicity of the terrorist in the action that threatens so many lives. This is why the lethal force argument has some power. The choice of lethal force is not made in and of itself, but rather because of the usefulness of lethal force in achieving the desired results. However, in the use of lethal force (mistakes notwithstanding) the general assumption is that the indiviudal the force is directed against is morally complicit in the action that the force seeks to end.

“I think the same application could be made in regards to torture and the ticking bomb scenario. The purpose of the torture is clearly to reveal the location of the bomb and, as uncomfortable as it is to say, the choice of torture therefore must be directed towards achieving that aim as efficiently as possible. . . .

“[I]t is difficult to easily come up with the kind of clear moral boundaries you suggest are reasonable to argue for in a situation where numerous lives are in jeopardy, and the individual who both holds the information that could preserve these lives, and is morally complicit in the action that could end them, is available for interrogation. That such boundaries exist I think is unquestionable. What those boundaries are though, under such a tense and immediate situation, is not so easily worked out. The scenario may have limits, but it also effectively stretches the ones we try to live by normally.”


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