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Monday, November 14, 2005


Torture seems to be the topic of the week. John Yoo is coming to the U, Nick Coleman had a pretty harsh piece last week on Professor Delahunty from St Thomas law school (a good man), the topic was dealt with at length in my conlaw class, and my classmate at generic heretic had a blog entry ( on the difference between a Wall Street Journal editorial on torture and an Economist editorial on the same subject. He (generic heretic) wondered out loud why it was even a debate. Rather than replying on his site, I figured I'd use this site to reach out to the literally ones of people who view us everyday and briefly deal with this topic.

I find it interesting that the Democrats, long opponents and deriders of the "simplicity" of conservative beliefs, (a topic apparently being pontificated on right now by some speaker here at the U), revert to at least as, and probably more egregious, moralizing self-aggrandizement whenever their ox is being gored. The question appears to be rather philosophical and revolves around the old debate over liberty and security. To put it in plainer terms, it’s the debate between what is right and what is necessary. The question of whether torture is a moral one. Personally, I’m against it, mostly on usefulness grounds, although the concept and indeed the mere word offend my moralistic sensibilities. However, that doesn’t immediately mean that any who are for it are monsters. Utilitarians have long argued that the real cruelty is in allowing injustice to come to many by reason of refusing to administer injustice to some. And as cold-hearted as this may seem, we all use this logic occasionally, especially in the law. Everyone knows that innocent people occasionally are sent to prison, but we accept some measure of justice to prevent the greater injustice of either sending nobody to prison or spending too much of the money of the taxpayers.

Now the administration argues that to prevent the harm of terrorism coming to the citizens of the U.S. is a worthy goal. There is no doubt that this is correct (except among some of those on the left who feel it is our “penance” for ignoring the world and daring to associate with Israel). They also claim that sometimes some form of torture is necessary for preventing this terrorism. This is certainly an arguable claim, and as such, needs to be debated. But both sides seem to have side-stepped this issue in the race to the moral high ground. Apparently you’re either a lily-livered liberal who won’t Do What It Takes to protect the U.S., and as such, are a traitor, or you’re a Goebbels-esque madman, dragging out the torture tongs for some sort of sadistic self satisfaction. Although I for the most part disagree with the former, the smug self-satisfaction and “holier than thou” attitude of the latter makes me even more peevish.

I don’t disagree that sometimes in protecting a nation, one’s hands must get dirty. The nuclear bombing of Japan was necessary I believe. As I said before, however, I don’t like the idea of torture. But the reflexive attitude of many of those on the left has left me cold. Their attitude seems to be “if America does it, it must be wrong” (although of course I’m generalizing). Like the U.N. Human Rights Council (and almost every other useless organization of that August institution), America’s actions are held up to strict critique while those of our enemies, or even our friends, are ignored as “cultural” or “expected” or “not as bad”.

But I fear I’m getting off on one of my anti-UN tangents. To wrap up, I’m a bit torn on the subject, and can probably be convinced either way. At this time I’m leaning against the use of torture in interrogation, but then again I was the one applauding when Jack Bauer broke a suspect’s finger on 24. Mainly I’m against the self-serving righteousness employed by both sides, but hypocritically employed by the left, who claim to despise the very type of argument they are here making.


A couple of comments:
First, I do not believe that torture is a conservative value, so I don't think it's fair to say that I was deriding the simplicity of a conservative belief; this may not have been what you were referring to and if not just ignore this comment.

Second, you say that: "[T]he administration argues that to prevent the harm of terrorism coming to the citizens of the U.S. is a worthy goal. There is no doubt that this is correct (except among some of those on the left who feel it is our “penance” for ignoring the world and daring to associate with Israel). While there may be some lunatics out there who feel like the harms of terrorism suffered by our country are deserved, it's important to qualify this kind of statement, not merely by noting that there are "some" on "the left", but by saying that they are, in fact, fringe group lunatics whose opinions are not taken seriously by most sensible people.

The attitude isn't "if America does it, it must be wrong", it's "if 90 United States Senators vote against it the American people think that it's wrong." Note that the argument that I excerpted from the Economist argued in terms of utility, not morals, so perhaps I'm exempted from the bulk of your complaints.

Anyway, keep up the blogging, and thanks for the link!
The moral relativism of the political right has always turned me off.
I wasn't targeting you, but the more radical left, and specifically the ones who used the moral reasoning, especially those who on other conservative issues (and I was not referring to "torture" as a conservative belief, just that some conservatives believe that torture is justified) feel the need to belittle their "moral certainty.
But doesn't the political right's vacillation regarding the propriety of torture constitute abandonment of their moral certainty in favor of lefty-style moral relativism that the right generally abhors? How isn't the right hypocritical on this one too?
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