Torture and Cowardice, Pt.2

April 27, 2009 8:58 am

In response to my earlier post on torture, a number of readers have written in to say that it’s not a matter of Cheney et al. being squeamish about using the word ‘torture’. It’s that there are specific statutes on the books in the US and internationally that make ‘torture’ a crime, with serious penalties. Everyone recognizes that; and they don’t want to be prosecuted. But I think my earlier point includes this reasoning behind the reluctance to identify torture as ‘torture’.

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.

More realistically, if these folks are really that tough, why not simply come and call for the repeal of American laws banning torture and the US withdrawal from international agreements doing the same?

Masthead Masthead
Editor & Publisher:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Senior Editor:
Special Projects Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Senior Newswriters:
Editor at Large:
General Manager & General Counsel:
Executive Publisher:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Publishing Associate:
Front-End Developer:
Senior Designer: