Why "It Worked" Isn’t A Justification For Torture

Former Vice President Dick Cheney would like to gain some measure of vindication for torturing particular high-value al-Qaeda prisoners with the assertion that the torture induced these prisoners to yield up valuable information that was used to foil additional plots to attack the United States. Right-wing torture apologists have been quick and gleeful in their publicity regarding the release of this information. There are two main problems here.

First, this argument assumes that the end justifies the means. I trust that we need not delve into the ethical rabbit hole that is utilitarian consequentialism too deeply — suffice to say that just because something turns out well does not provide moral clearance for what you had to do to get there. Placing heavy weight on a consequentalist justification to the torture misses the point of my objection to torture in the first place — it is inherently wrong to do, regardless of the consequences.

Second, the exact plot allegedly uncovered by the specific acts of torture being justified had already been foiled through other intelligence and covert activity by the time the torture took place. The plot, an effort to fly a hijacked airplane into Los Angeles’ U.S. Bank Tower, was uncovered through more conventional intelligence-gathering methods in 2002. The torture yielding his information did not commence until 2003. The torture, therefore, was effective in getting the prisoner to talk, but by the time the information was retrieved, it was stale.

So, let me repeat the rule, because there seems to be a lack of clarity out there.

1. No torture.
(a) Ever.
(b) Under any circumstances.
2. Our enemies are not our teachers. We hold ourselves to our own high standards, and we will not lower ourselves to the low moral behavior of others even if “they would do it to us” (See Torture Policy Rule 1(b).)

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.