JL Wall and Mark were kind enough to respond to my original post on torture (read the comments section – Mark offers a few thought-provoking scenarios). The discussion at John Schwenkler’s place has also been excellent. My thinking on this subject isn’t particularly systematic, so I’ll restrain myself to two additional points:
- I think the War on Terror framework is silly and counter-productive, but the recent tragedy in India demonstrates the omnipresent risk of extremist violence in any open society. Opponents of torture should be forthright in acknowledging this risk, even to the point of conceding that certain restrictions on intelligence gathering are likely to hamper our efforts to reduce terrorism. Too frequently, the debate over interrogation methods revolves around whether a particular technique is effective or not. As I’ve said earlier, one can easily imagine scenarios where torture is the only pragmatic method of interrogation. In some other cases, it may be ineffective, but a purely utilitarian calculus will always allow for a few narrow exceptions. The case against torture, however, was never a pragmatic one; some practices are morally wrong, regardless of circumstance, and we should not be ashamed to make this point.
- I liked the framing in JL Wall’s original post. All people should be entitled to a certain standard of humane treatment. If basic human decency is entirely dependent on the whim of circumstance, I’m not sure there’s much point to codifying “inalienable” rights.