The Corner

Kinsley On Torture

I agreed with most of it, nobody here will be surprised to learn. But I’m having trouble following his last paragraph: “Every day American forces in Iraq and elsewhere probably inflict more pain on guilty and innocent people than officially designated American torturers would do in a year, even if Bush and company were free of any legal restriction. That pain is not necessarily unjustified (although I believe it is). But it makes the whole debate about officially designated ‘torture’ artificial and symbolic, not to say deeply hypocritical. And yet supporters of the administration, the war, and the practice of torture have not leaped to embrace this argument, for some reason.”

I don’t get what his point is. Is he really saying that it’s “deeply hypocritical” to oppose torture while continuing to support the war? And how can the question of whether the war is justified simply be set aside? If you were trying to explain why it makes sense to oppose torture while supporting a war, you would have to draw a distinction between them. That distinction would have to be that the latter is justified while the former isn’t. (In other words: the question of the conditions under which various forms of violence are justified is the entire substance of the moral argument.)

If I’m reading Kinsley correctly, then he’s suggesting that you have to choose between pacifism and torture. (If you support World War II, you have to support torture, because you’re supporting the infliction of pain.) That conclusion certainly isn’t entailed by anything in the rest of his column.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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