A Justification for Anything
My demonstrated ambivalence about near-torture of terrorists (perhaps even crossing that line) may be immoral, in itself, but there are many layers to the matter, and given the unlikelihood that an individual’s opinion will make much difference, the deep consideration that the question requires has been perpetually postponed. Clearly, an interrogation technique needn’t be unambiguous torture before it risks objectification of the subject. Clearly, too, the reasoning required to arrive at a stamp of moral and legal legitimacy for acts that push the boundaries sets dangerous precedent. Such is the case with this, from National Review editor Rich Lowry:
The interrogations really should be viewed as a continuation of the war by different means. When the detainees were compliant, they weren’t subjected to harsh techniques–they were no longer in the fight. But if they had knowledge of ongoing plots that they were keeping from us, they were, in effect, still combatants. And coercion was appropriate. Their cell was just the battlefield in a different form.
If that’s the framework, and we can kill on the battlefield, what wouldn’t be allowed against prisoners of war? And although we certainly shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that our enemy is not a state actor, making definition difficult, if that war is not declared and defined in detailed terms, what’s to stop the “battlefield” from expanding to include any suburban home in the United States?
Arguably, it’s among the benefits of a mixed culture that the just reservations of one group will not always be adequate to restrain those whose beliefs allow venturing into morally murkier waters, and given the stakes, it isn’t unreasonable to be relieved that we’ve learned what we’ve learned, however we arrived at the information. But torture will always appear vindicated, to some extent, if it contributed to avoiding substantial loss of human life. The problem is that we cannot know beforehand what information the prisoner possesses.