The Corner

Re: Bought With Blood

Rich, I think the argument you’ve been making about the McCain amendment’s lack of specificity has considerable merit. If the administration had made it starting a few weeks ago, or really ever, we would probably be in a better position now. It was a very convincing argument for amending McCain.

It didn’t quite convince me to oppose McCain altogether. I see some possible gains from the amendment–a lowered likelihood of torture, a marginal improvement in our image–and some possible harms, such as its being interpreted to prevent reasonable interrogation tactics. The prudential judgment about where the balance lies between the harms and gains struck me as something about which reasonable people can disagree. Presumably the administration will now try to resist the most restrictive interpretations of the amendment.

In a couple of your recent posts, however, I fear you have let your understandable indignation with the “moral preening” and dishonesty of some supporters of the amendment cloud your judgment. You note that David Ignatius suggested that it is worth opposing torture even if it costs some Americans’ lives. You don’t really disagree with that, do you? You do believe, that is, that there are some things that you would agree count as torture and that should not be done even if they cost some Americans’ lives–don’t you? You’re not a pure utilitarian on the question. And if the failure to commit what you yourself consider torture did cost an American his life, you wouldn’t feel specially obligated, would you, to write his family a letter telling them his death was “worth it” to vindicate a moral point? Are you sure that issuing a challenge to Ignatius–telling him to write that letter–wouldn’t be a kind of moral preening in itself?

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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