On Justifying Torture

I have finally gotten around to cracking Stephen L. Carter’s The Violence of Peace: America’s Wars in the Age of Obama. So far, it has proven to be an insightful examination of how the “peace candidate” has become a “war president.”

One section stood out to me was Carter’s section on torture. At the end of the day, Carter considers himself an absolutist in terms of being anti-torture, but he offers this thought-provoking assessment/critique of an absolutist in this realm:

The true absolutist is rare. The true absolutist will say, and mean it, “Never resort to torture even when there is no other way. If the bomb is ticking, if the skies are falling, if the nation is on the verge of destruction, we are nevertheless morally better people if we do not torture.” The position is, in its way, noble, but it fails to partake of the reality that we have no choice but to rank evils. To say, “I would never torture to prevent mass murder” is indeed admirable; but it is not clear why it is more admirable than to say, “I would never torture except to prevent mass murder.”

What say ye? I very much consider myself anti-torture, but does there (should there) come a point when a “lesser wrong” should be committed to avoid a greater one?


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