21 December 2005

On use of torture

Norm raises that eternal subject in his post. His conclusion is crystal clear:

"Some moral rules are absolute or all but absolute. The prohibition of torture is one of them."

He refers as a starting point to an article in Boston Globe.

To be fair, I do not have a settled opinion on the subject, trying not to be of a closed mind. Thus I can neither agree nor disagree with Norm on the subject. However, due to peculiarities of my own upbringing, I tend to be wary of absolutes - be they of moral, political or religious source. Being, on top of it, Jewish and thus questioning everything and anything, I would naturally like to ask a few questions.

1. Aren't moral rules just a set of tools used to govern our behaviour and adjusted to our specific culture (thus not absolute by definition)?

2. Is there an absolute that was not bent at this or another time by this or another society?

3. Seeing how "Thou shall not kill", which should by rights be considered one of the most important absolutes is treated by all and sundry - isn't "Thou shall not torture" a bit less important?

Here a quote from Boston Globe is needed.

Columbia's Waldron is asking: "If there were 100 people in custody and only one had the information needed, but you didn't know which one, would you torture all 100? Or would you torture a terrorist's innocent daughter if she happened to know where the bomb was but out of misguided loyalty remained silent?"

So, in the best Jewish tradition, I shall counter by a question:

4. When a general sacrifices hundreds or thousands of soldiers to save thousands or tens of thousands of other soldiers, which is considered a normal military practice - is it that different from the case Waldron raises above?

And, in preparation to the next question: let's assume that there is a law that a) permits the use of torture in the "ticking bomb" situation and b) stipulates that the person(s) using torture to save Manhattan or, say, Jerusalem, will be tried and punished for this. Let's add another assumption: the person that is going to use torture is aware of the consequences and is ready to bear them. Now I am ready for the last question:

5. What then?

P.S. Let's not use Krauthammer, OK?