Saturday, May 2, 2009

Is Torture Justified?

Since Obama’s release of Bush Administration memos, there has been a great deal of debate about torture—its place in our society, and what penalties (if any) should be dealt out to those Bush Administration officials who performed torture. There is no doubt that the United States performed torture (if you count waterboarding as torture, and most do), and very little doubt that that torture worked, and that information was extracted that saved lives. The question is: was that torture acceptable, and if not, should anyone be punished for it?

There can be little doubt that torture works, if “works” is defined as “getting information from detainees that would not otherwise have been acquired.” Virtually every country and culture across history has engaged in torture at some point, which is a clue as to its effectiveness. And the CIA claims that waterboarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed produced information that prevented terrorist attacks, potentially saving many innocent lives.

The catch is, most people agree that, generally, torture is immoral and wrong. So, given that a) torture saves lives, and b) torture is wrong, was the United States justified in using torture?

No. If torture is wrong, then performing it is always unacceptable, regardless of the circumstances. It’s a cliché, but the end does not justify the means. Even if the act of torture produces a good (saving lives), the act is not any less evil.

Some consider that argument unconvincing, arguing that the greatest good of the greatest number is the primary concern here and that it would be immoral not to use torture if circumstances required it. But consider a (imperfect) parallel. Suppose the government developed of a method of brainwashing people so that the idea of crime was repugnant to them, a la A Clockwork Orange. Such a measure, if employed against dangerous criminals, would undoubtedly save lives. But such an act violates the inherent dignity of the human person, and most moral people would, I think, reject it. The case of waterboarding is similar to this hypothetical case.

And those people who find that ethical argument unconvincing might wish to consider that torture can lead to other, worse thing; that a government that rejects such ethical mores as a resistance to torture might later reject rights that hit closer to home. Torture does not directly affect the vast majority of Americans—but it might lead to precedents that do.

But right or wrong, the United States did perform torture. What should happen to those who did?

It would be very difficult to justify prosecuting those who actually did torture under orders. (The Abu Ghraib torturers are another story; they weren’t actually under orders and seemed to torture simply for sadistic fun). “Just following orders” doesn’t excuse all crimes, but torture resides in enough of a gray area that it works here. Some have suggested prosecuting those Bush Administration lawyers whom produced the legal justification for torture, but there is no crime to prosecute them for—can one be prosecuted for writing a legal opinion? In addition, doing so would probably be a case of an ex post facto law, and would set a dangerous precedent for any future presidents who want to go after the previous administration.

If you can’t prosecute those who actually waterboarded, nor the ones who provided the legal justification for it, who is left? Only those who approved it, and in this case those people are George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and other top Bush officials. So should they be prosecuted?

No, for two reasons. The first is that trying to prosecute a former president would tear the country apart like nothing else since the Civil War, and would set a destructive precedent for future presidents. Under that sort of precedent, opponents of the current president aren’t just obstructionists—they may also be lawbreakers.

The second reason is that while Bush and company are the ones who authorized torture, they were hardly the only ones who knew about it. The Democratic congressional leadership was briefed about torture, and those who weren’t could easily have found out about it. But they remained silent, and tacitly supported torture. They are as guilty as Bush is.


At May 4, 2009 at 7:31 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

you conservatives are nut cases...

At May 4, 2009 at 7:31 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At May 4, 2009 at 8:31 AM , Anonymous bugboy said...

The post above mine. just goes to prove exactly what I'm about to say..
And by the way, if you agree with what I'm about to say, you have my permission to reprint it.. Because it's going to be a beautie.

What I’m going to say is just like the asswipes on the liberal blogs said, and call for the Impeachment of the sitting President, who we all can see now is an idiot. Lets run down his idiot-ness (is that a word?) and see how well he’s done in his first 100 days in office…

The Europeans, who were all lining up to take turns kissing up to the Messiah sucking up to him like a vintage Hoover vacuum cleaner have had an epiphany, and now are convinced that he’s an utter moron who doesn’t know his ass from his elbow about economics, foreign policy, domestic policy, etc, etc, etc, and is also completely clueless on how to properly treat a visiting head of state or foreign dignitary with the decorum that the position deserves. Us conservatives pointed out that he was a complete bumbling idiot, but the liberals wouldn’t listen, and accused us conservatives of trying to *steal* the election by scaring the world into thinking that he would ruin their economies. I guess we were right, but its rather a moot point, because the idiot got elected.
He has spent more, in the first 100 days of the presidency, than all of the other presidents COMBINED have spent in their first FULL YEAR in office. That’s impressive, only because we were told that it would be impossible to spend that much money in that short of a period because it would bankrupt the country, so all of us conservatives were told that we were just *being alarmists* and trying to win an election with our own moron by scaring the beJesus out of the population in order to *steal* the election from the Messiah. I guess we were right, but its rather a moot point, because the idiot got elected.
We conservatives pointed out that he couldn’t cobble together a coherent sentence on his own without the help of a staff of writers, and Teleprompters placed in a grid-like pattern in a radius of 50 feet, spaced two feet apart in any direction form the next available Teleprompter, so as to make sure the idiot wouldn’t stumble over the words, or forget his place. And even with all that, the idiot *lost* his place on the scrolling Teleprompter, and just babbled for 5 minutes while the staff tried to scroll the text back so that he could stop making an idiot of himself. Again, I guess we were right, but its rather a moot point, because the idiot got elected. Pretty impressive isn’t it!
He wouldn’t know an un-corrupt politician if said politician dropped to his knees and bowed to him... . His is the first presidency in history where the amount of overall appointments is running neck and neck with the amount of tax cheats he’s appointed. Us conservatives pointed out that OBambi was nothing more than a corrupt Chicago asswipe. I guess we were right, but its rather a moot point, because the idiot got elected.
We pointed out that he’s a gun-grabber, and he even turned the spotlight onto himself with the *clinging to religion and guns* statement he made, but the panty-wetters at the Brady Outhouse to Prevent you from Exercising your Second Amendment Right got their titty-nipples tied into knots and claimed that we were trying to scare the law-abiding citizens into not voting for him, in effect trying to steal the election by spreading false and vicious rumors. I guess we were right, but its rather a moot point, because the idiot got elected.

The list of stuff goes on, but I’m not going to bore the readership with the more mundane things that prove, beyond a doubt, that he’s a complete bozo, and an idiot who couldn’t find his behind with both hands and a map, a moron who demeans the office of the Presidency by going on late-night talk shows and yucks it up, laughing as he talks about how much money he’s going to be spending in order to *fix* the broken government that he *inherited*

And you Libs thought Bush was stupid? This guy is infantile. He’s way out of his league, and he may very well be impeached after the 2010 election by the wave of conservatives that will no doubt be swept into office.

And another thing... Shut the Mexico Border down. What is the deal?? Are we trying to spread this illness faster than wildfire?? You know the Mexican people are fleeing their country and running into ours! But Prez says, Duh!

At May 5, 2009 at 11:03 AM , Blogger Z-man said...

"you conservatives are nut cases...Susan"As I blogged about recently I can understand a person having a technical moral opposition to the use of torture but what I don't get is the sheer passion behind it among liberals. Mark Shields got all hot and bothered about it on the Newshour recently so I guess I'm a nutcase for not getting it. Give me my 24.

At March 29, 2010 at 10:01 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bugboy makes a great case for subjective 'facts', like the lawyer who chastises the witness "just answer yes or no"; i.e. don;t bother with the whole truth, just the part that makes me sound good. I'd rather hear from ignorant morons that from a self-deluded savant.

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