Monday, April 27, 2009

Torturous decisions about torture.

In assessing complex moral decisions in the real world, we must look not only at our acts, but at the consequences of our failures to act. Would it really have been more moral, for example, to have not waterboarded Khalid Sheik Mohammed, if the result had been a successful 9/11 type attack in Los Angeles? A person might answer “yes.” But it is disingenuous to assert that such a person is clearly and unequivocally in a position that is morally superior to that of the person who would answer “no.”

There are sins of omission as well as sins of commission. Are we morally responsible—and therefore guilty—for failing to stop an attack that might have been prevented by gaining information through a coercive technique such as waterboarding?

The people who drew up the rules about waterboarding seemed to have been cognizant of these and other moral complexities. They certainly did not intend or allow the United States to engage in the more extreme type of torture endured by Mr. Chen, for example. But they wanted to permit—and to give guidelines for the use of—something strong enough to extract vital information from terrorists, but weak enough to cause no permanent damage to them.

Read the whole thing.

No comments: