Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Josh Marshall, April 2009:

Being bold means taking responsibility for being bold. As I've argued before, I think the answer to the ticking time bomb rationale for torture is this: that in the extremely unlikely circumstance that government officials ever found themselves in that position of having a ticking time bomb ticking away, they might have to make the decision to break the law. Not fudge it or keep their actions hidden, but take the decision on their own responsibility that it was the best thing to do in the situation -- despite it being wrong as a general matter -- and then bring their decision to attention of the people and law enforcement authorities and throw themselves on the mercy of the public. Thomas Jefferson explored a similar question and argument for the position a president could find himself in when faced with extra-constitutional or even unconstitutional actions.

In any case, if your patriotism is such that in an extreme situation you'd risk your own liberty to defend the lives of Americans, that's courage. But nothing else really cuts it.

Me, December 2005:

If you really believe in some higher law, then you should be willing to pay a temporal price for your willingness to torture in its service. Then when the time comes, perhaps you can explain to your higher authority why you think making it safe for heathens like me to torture with impunity makes ours a better world.

I feel there is a strong categorical imperative against torture. I am also in at least some contexts a utilitarian. I honestly don't know what I would do if faced with this situation. But I do know that if I honestly believed that by doing something I considered wrong I would certainly prevent the suffering of millions, the illegality of my actions would not be a major factor in my decision. I would much prefer that my government declare torture illegal and risk jail in your hypothetical situation than sleep in my own bed in a country that condones such barbarity.

Moral decisions involve costs. What personal price would you pay to prevent the Holocaust? I would like to believe I am strong and noble enough not just to commit a personal wrong, but to pay the price for that transgression, to benefit the many. And I would hope that, when compared to the millions of deaths and countless other horrors prevented, my own punishment for murder would have only trifling weight in my personal calculus.

Doing the right thing often means paying a price. Ask Joseph Wilson. Ask Sibel Edmonds. Ask Bunnatine Greenhouse. Torture is, at the very least, almost always the wrong thing. I want my country to make sure that torturers pay a price, and I’d rather punish the one-in-a-million person whose actions are justified than encourage others with motives less pure to sin with impunity.

And that's a big part of why I don't post so much nowadays.


Anonymous Chris Winter said...

For what it's worth, I agree with you: The way to resolve this dilemma is to forbid torture -- because it's wrong -- and to expect that if a circumstance arises that does seem to require it, our people on the scene will do what the situation requires and take the consequences.

I believe Malcolm Nance feels this way too. You can read extensive comments from him at:
Waterboarding is Torture… Period (Links Updated # 9)
Malcolm Nance, 31 Oct 2007
or Google his name. He hasn't gotten much press lately, but he's outspoken on the subject.

10:12 AM  

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