The Corner

Sullivan Responds

To Krauthammer here (Reg Req’d). He also seems to be responding to yours truly and others who’ve demanded to know why torture is self-evidently and in all circumstances evil and unacceptable. Krauthammer never demanded to know any such thing.

I have deadline work. But one thing I’ll throw out is that it starts unconvincingly. He defines torture as the “polar opposite of freedom” and, well, I’ll let him say it:

Torture is the polar opposite of freedom. It is the banishment of all freedom from a human body and soul, insofar as that is possible. As human beings, we all inhabit bodies and have minds, souls, and reflexes that are designed in part to protect those bodies: to resist or flinch from pain, to protect the psyche from disintegration, and to maintain a sense of selfhood that is the basis for the concept of personal liberty. What torture does is use these involuntary, self-protective, self-defining resources of human beings against the integrity of the human being himself. It takes what is most involuntary in a person and uses it to break that person’s will. It takes what is animal in us and deploys it against what makes us human.

First of all, Andrew is describing torture more than he is explaining why it should be banned. Does it automatically flow from the assertion that torture is the opposite of freedom that torture can therefore never be employed? If so, I don’t see it. War is about nothing if it isn’t about depriving the enemy of certain freedoms and rights, first and foremost the right to life.

Which brings me to point number two. By his own formulation, death is more of a polar opposite of freedom than torture (a point I made here and elsewhere). Death is forever. Will returns. But Andrew isn’t against killing our enemies. Why? The dirt nap offers no opportunity for redemption, no opportunity for future freedom.

Third, what is with this sanctification of “will”? Has Andrew gone Nietzschean on us? Will is, at best, morally neutral. One can will evil just as much as good. The idea that a terrorist who — even in captivity — refuses to divulge life saving information has a will that deserves the utmost respect strikes me as batty. One can believe this even if you totally oppose torture. Indeed, merely holding him is a violation of his will.

What is so dear about a will which refuses to reveal information about the impending murder of innocents? This is the grand moral construct he holds inviolate? That it would be a crime to break that will? Comparing terrorists to philosophers and to wax eloquent about the sanctity of a terrorists “autonomy” is a distraction and a category error.

Andrew knows philosophy better than I do, but if will is elevated to such high status, why is one man’s will more sacrosanct than another’s? If it is our will to prevent a bus full of children from blowing up — hence permanently ending their autonomy — why is that any less noble or special than the terrorist’s will? By respecting the bad guy’s will are we saying the good guy’s will is meaningless? That strikes me as counter-productive, to put it mildly.

Again, I’m open to arguments about why torture should always be off the table in all circumstances. I just haven’t read a persuasive one yet.

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