Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hilzoy on Torture

In light of expert testimony that "the harsh techniques used since the 2001 terrorist attacks are outmoded, amateurish and unreliable", this bears repeating:
Arguing about torture without asking [whether it is actually effective] is like arguing about whether you must, absolutely must, eat your children to keep yourself from starving to death without first checking to see whether you have any other food available...

People who don't bother to ask that question are not serious about winning; they're in love with a fantasy of themselves as the person who is tough enough to do all those dirty things that have to be done while other people just wring their hands and whimper.

If you're serious about war, you should ask yourself, at every juncture, what will best achieve your objectives, rather than embracing some sort of Rambo fantasy. That would require asking very serious questions about the effectiveness of torture, and also about the effect it is likely to have on our long-term objectives, and the possibility that by forfeiting our moral authority, we lose much more in the long term than we could gain even if torture did work. If you're serious about loving your country, you should never be willing to degrade it, or to embrace in its name the kinds of techniques that made us rightly despise Stalin. And if you're serious about morality, you should know that there are lines you cross only at the risk of losing your soul. It's bad enough to lose your soul because you had to choose between two great evils, and you chose wrong. But there's no excuse for letting your soul slip through your fingers because you're too busy striking a stern and heroic attitude to notice.

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