I had intended to post what I had written here as well, but a few days later, Anthony was born, and then it must have slipped my mind until I noticed recently that I still had a draft for a post with the title "torture".
Anyway, I began by saying:
The short answer is that torture is wrong because it's intrinsically immoral.
(I realized afterward this sounded a bit tautological. Instead of saying "wrong", I should have said "not justified". *)
The next commenter, one Abnpoppa, began with this:
Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn if it is immoral.
Gee, I can't see how that way of thinking could lead to any problems.
He then said:
I'll water board your mother until the oceans run dry if it will save one American or one soldiers life.
Now, because Comic Book Guy destroyed Professor Frink's prototype for a sarcasm detector, it's never made its way onto the market. But at times like this, one could really come in handy.
I'm assuming Abnpoppa is engaging in hyperbole — not the part about the oceans running dry, which is obviously is hyperbole, but about waterboarding my mother — and that if push came to shove, he wouldn't actually waterboard my mother if he believed that by doing so it might save one American or one soldier's life.
On the other hand, maybe not. Maybe he really would have no qualms about waterboarding my mother.
(As an aside: note that Abnpoppa implicitly admits that waterboarding is, in fact, a form of torture — a point that many defenders of waterboarding are, to say the least, reluctant to acknowledge. **)
But let's just assume it is hyperbole.
Well, in that case, if Doing Whatever It Takes to save the lives of the good guys is the justification for torturing terrorists in order to extract information, why stop at torturing only terrorists themselves?
If the first attempts don't get them to tell us what we need to know, why *not* bring in their mothers — or wives, or daughters — and make the terrorists watch while we torture them too?
After all, if the debate about torture is not a debate about morality but rather a debate about utility, then why impose limits on ourselves? If, by torturing terrorists' relatives, we could conceivably have more success extracting information from them than by merely torturing the terrorists themselves, why not do it?
But of course, the debate about torture must be a debate about morality. And that's why hearing a defense of torture that begins with, "I don't give a damn if it is immoral" ought to raise a red flag.
* I'm aware that some Catholic thinkers have attempted to argue that torture is morally permissible under certain circumstances. I can't say I've done an exhaustive study of such arguments, but what I have read I have found lacking, not to mention troubling, especially in light of the fact that in Veritatis Splendor 80, Pope John Paul II writes that "physical and mental torture" are among the acts that are "intrinsically evil".
That doesn't leave much wiggle room for torture apologists, does it?
** On this topic, a couple items are worth a look: "This Is What Waterboarding Looks Like", an account of waterboarding as it was used by the Khmer Rouge, and "Believe Me, It's Torture", Christopher Hitchens' account of being waterboarded.