by Jonah Goldberg

From a reader:

I read your posts at The Corner on a fairly regular basis. Sometimes I agree with you, some times I do not. This quote however, is total bulls**t: “I would take fifty lashes and some waterboarding over the death penalty any day of the week. Indeed, I’d take fifty lashes and waterboarding over fifty years in jail.” How can you presume to know that? Have you received even five lashes? Have you ever been waterboarded? You assume you can withstand any physical pain to avoid death or prolonged imprisonment, I would imagine you haven’t experienced much extreme physical pain. You may have watched movies where the hero had no trouble mentally enduring torture, but you may not be as tough as your cinematic heroes. You have no way of knowing whether you could take the punishment without begging for your own death. You aren’t even making an argument, just a schoolboy pronouncement. I expect something more salient from you.

Me: Obviously, I haven’t had the experience, but I’m flummoxed as to why the reader thinks it’s B.S. If given the choice between never spending another night with my family or receiving torture I’d take torture. Now, if you’re saying that if during the fifty lashes I might “change my mind” and opt for the prison option — or even death — out of panic and pain, that’s entirely possible, maybe even propable. But that’s not exactly relevant. The choice terrorists face in all the hypotheticals under discussion is first and foremost between coercion and talking. That’s the sort of choice I was addressing, not the one made under pressure.

Or… As this reader puts it:

I think your last point can’t be emphasized enough:
The theoretical torture isn’t being performed on
innocent people. it’s being performed on recalcitrant
captured terrorists who are being given the option of
pain versus not punishment, but simply opening their
mouths. Everyone’s losing the forest for the trees
here, including, sad to say, you, if you keep
wondering about philosophical rationales or lack thereof.

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