It’s good that people are talking about the issues of renditions, prisons, and torture; too many others treat them as outside of their lives, even though our public policies have very real consequences for people every day. My last post, Once-secret memos endorse CIA torture tactics generated an email comment from someone who said that she “could justify torture if it meant avoiding as many deaths as occurred in 9/11.”
Of course, we’re fortunate in one sense that torture is not a familiar part of most of our lives. But the result is that we idealize it. For many people it’s the glorified version they see on television, as on 24, in which heroes suffer but survive, and bad guys get what they deserve. In that idealized world, moral choices appear more clear-cut: Is it OK to torture one evil person so that thousands of lives can be saved?
But in the real world, there is no evidence that torture actually works:
There is almost no scientific evidence to back up the U.S. intelligence community’s use of controversial interrogation techniques in the fight against terrorism, and experts believe some painful and coercive approaches could hinder the ability to get good information, according to a new report from an intelligence advisory group.
Those TV situations don’t happen, for a variety of reasons. We end up torturing innocent people (who have never even been tried). People who defend torture should be asking, not “is there any conceivable situation in which torture could be justified?”, but “what is the cost of abusing our Constitution, our laws and our moral values? are we absolutely sure that it’s worth it? when we start down that path, how do we decide where to stop?”
I’ve signed the petition at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT); to say that I don’t believe we should be on the path at all.
Intelligence Science Board (2006, December). Educing Information: Interrogation: Science and Art: Foundations for the Future, Phase 1 Report (374 pages, 2.5 MB).