Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Case Against Torture

(Note: See my comments posted at VFR on this topic where I mention another aspect of that particular torture conversation which came to mind after I put up this entry. Thanks to Mr. Auster for posting them.)

With all the conversation going on over at VFR concerning a certain form of gnosticism emanating from a certain group espousing a pacifist sort of Christianity that would, among other things, allegedly prefer the allowance of a hijacked airliner, with innocent passengers on board, to crash into the Sears Tower, as an example, rather than downing the fateful aircraft thereby saving untold thousands, I've been reminded time and again of a similar conversation I was involved in some time back.

In my conversation the question about the use of torture to extract information from 'enemy combatants' was the central issue. My contention was that I supported the use of torture when it was necessary to save American lives. My opponent's position was that torture is immoral, and that he could never support the use of it under any circumstances. So I put this question to him:

Suppose your family is captured by terrorists. Suppose that you get information from a reliable source that someone in your neighborhood friendly to the captors has knowledge of your family's whereabouts. Would you, if necessary, use torture to extract information about your family's whereabouts in an attempt to save their lives. His answer, which may or may not surprise some of you, was: “No!, I would never use torture under any circumstances.” And that's putting it mildly.

Of course, I did not hesitate to tell this individual what a piece of scum I thought he was to prefer to protect his own sensibilities over the saving of the very lives of his family members. But when push came to shove, I wondered, is this truly the way he would react, in spite of all his self-righteous invectives?

I often wonder about that to this very day. I suppose some folks have lost all sense of a moral obligation to protect innocent lives even at the mere hazard of crushing their own sensibilities. But I wonder if part of my opponent's unwavoring adherence to this goofy notion of his was not really based in the knowledge that if he answered “yes; I would use torture in that case,” that his whole case against using torture, which he had very carefully laid out, would at once break down?



Terry Morris said...

I hate to be the one to start the comments out on one of my own posts, and generally I wouldn't but I'm going to in this one. So here goes...

I wonder whether this might have some relation to our interesting conversation on creedal vs. familial loyalties? What I'm getting at is that I can hardly see how there could be any real family loyalty where it was understood from the outset that he who is charged primarily with the protection of his own family, his wife, children and so forth, would be unwilling to suffer a molestation of something as trivial as his sensibilities concerning torture or killing for the greater good.

As I imply in the post, I suspect that at least some of these absolutists would break with their stated position and indeed protect their family when push actually came to shove. And in some cases the family members are probably aware of this. But I still wonder whether that absolute position as stated, even if it's merely a defensive posturing primarily intended to keep their argument intact, might not have an effect on the family that would be detrimental in the long run?

How might this relate on a larger scale?


Michael Tams said...

You mean like when B. Hussein Obama says that nukes are off the table?


Terry Morris said...

Well, that's not exactly what I was getting at, Mike, but yes, it does relate.

It seems to me that such a position would tend to foster no real sense of confidence in the electorate, even among supporters of such a position. I don't like this parent-child analogy much, but I'm resigned to using it here because of the nature of the post. But if my children believed in their souls that I would not defend their lives, using whatever means necessary to do so, then I can hardly see how that filial attachment could be very strong or enduring.

An absolutist position like that seems to me to defy nature.