Last Torture Post For a While

by Jonah Goldberg

The reader who called my position b.s. has responded with:


Okay, so now I’m confused about your entire argument. I thought the entire goal of this exercise is getting the prisoner to talk and the prisoner’s goal would be to not talk (or at least not give out any worthwhile information). Your statement inferred that you’d rather be tortured than jailed, as the real torture to you would be separation from your family. So what? I don’t understand what that has to do with the entire torture debate, except as a “torture might hurt less than captivity” argument? Are you saying that you would be more likely to give the enemy valuable information if they threatened to lock you up for 50 years than if you were being lashed?

The truth is that any situation with a real terrorist who “required” torturing to reveal important information (insert ridiculous ticking time bomb argument here) would include both torture and lengthy detention which may or may not end in execution. So, again, I guess I just don’t get the point of your statement saying you’d choose torture. How is it part of the dialogue?

Me: Several readers have made similar objections (including this blogger).

I am not saying anything new or, I think, outlandish. Here is what I’m trying to say.

I think torture is a very bad thing among a whole host of very bad things. Some — Sullivan, Young, et al– claim that it is uniquely evil and terrible. I claim that their arguments against torture in fact demonstrate that torture is not uniquely evil. Their arguments would apply in significant ways to many other things, including killing and imprisonment. Indeed, in some circumstances I’d pick imprisonment over torture (which was my only point about taking fifty lashes over life in prison). Which is to say, in my own scheme of things torture doesn’t strike me as so transcendantly horrible that I wouldn’t choose it over a range of other terrible options in the right circumstances.

Moreover, innocent people would not choose torture. They would give up the information needed. Of course there is a very real and legitimate danger of torturing innocent people because we wrongly don’t believe they’re innocent, which would be awful — again just like killing or imprisoning innocent people is awful. But for the terrorist who knows that innocent men, women and children are about to be murdered and chooses to stay silent, I simply haven’t read a principled argument that makes the moral case against coercing this accomplice to murder that I personally find convincing. Contrary to what a lot of people think, that alone doesn’t make me “pro-torture.” It makes me unpersuaded by some of the more high-minded arguments of the anti-torture crowd.

Now, I’ve got to get back to work.

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