February 6, 2009

On Torture

Matt Damon paraphrasing a statement by Milt Beardon,

”Look, the best line about torture I’ve heard came from [retired CIA officer turned war-on-terrorism critic] Milt Beardon,” Damon says. “He said, ‘If a guy knows where a dirty bomb is hidden that’s going to go off in a Marriott, put me in a room with him and I’ll find out. But don’t codify that. Just let me break the law.’

I essentially agree with this point of view. You can't give torture legal sanction without relinquishing moral authority. More cogently, once you say its okay to torture people for one thing, where does that stop? Next thing you know, you're torturing people for all sorts of reasons. This IS the government we're talking about. I'm always amazed at how my fellow conservatives can be apoplectic about government decisions to regulate industry and yet are blithely relaxed about the government's decision to torture individuals. Because here's the thing; everyone likes to talk about the quintessential torture example...a guy knows where a nuke is thats going to go off in an hour and we have to make him talk to save lives. Well, the thing is, exigent circumstances like that are not the norm, they are the exception. More typical is you catch a guy and he knows stuff and you want him to talk. Are we gonna torture him to get that info? Well, its gets very easy to get there if you've already decided that torture is okay.

We shouldn't torture. No government should. But in the course of human events, there will be times when a Jack Bauer moment seems called for. Humans are highly fallible beings, prone to make such judgments wrongly. Codifying torture makes such wrong judgments more likely. Leave torture outside the sanction of law, so that any one who makes a decision to torture does so with a keen sense of responsibility and an understanding that they are outside the bounds of law and morality. In this manner, a person's rationale for torture must flow from circumstances where the tension between humane behavior and the duty to protect innocent lives are in unquestionable and irresolvable conflict.