Is torture ever moral?
Posted on May 13, 2011
The death of Osama Bin Laden has reignited public debate on torture. Some people are defending the use of torture by claiming it led to information that allowed U.S. forces to track down and kill Bin Laden (this is questionable). Others are arguing that torture is not necessarily effective, and is immoral either way because it violates basic human rights.
Note there are really two different questions being considered: “is torture effective?” and “is torture moral?” I happen to think the second is more important than the first. But however you answer these, here are some interesting essays on the matter.
Sam Harris argues that if we are willing to wage modern war, which entails collateral damage, we should be willing to commit torture (though the practice need not be officially condoned by law).
Kenan Malik warns against using effectiveness in arguing for the moral approval of something.
Bruce Ledewitz says that Americans have not rejected torture as immoral because they “now measure all actions not by right and wrong, but by effectiveness and even profit.”
Steve Chapman points out that defenders use instances of torture’s ineffectiveness as evidence of its effectiveness, avoid calling it torture, and don’t take torture to its logical end.
Dan Froomkin posits that torture may have actually slowed the hunt for Bin Laden, not hastened it.