Jane Galt notes, in response to my argument about the actual risks of terrorism directed at the United States and whether those risks actually justify extreme measures such as torture, that people don’t in fact respond to risks of mass murder for political ends as they respond to risks of ordinary murder, nor to the risks of ordinary murder to risks of inintentional injury.
That’s right, and they’re right to respond differently. “Even a dog,” said Justice Holmes, “knows the difference between being stumbled over and being kicked.” But I think that leaves my initial point standing: We’re not dealing with the sort of truly society-threatening risk that might justify, or at least profoundly tempt, a violation of the rule “Do not torture.”
Glenn Reynolds makes a point of central importance, one that is well illustrated by the revelations now coming out of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo:
I find it hard to respond to these things in terms of cost-benefit. My law school mentor Charles Black once said that of course you can come up with scenarios — the classic ticking-nuclear-bomb example — where torture might be justified. And you can be sure that, in those cases, if people think it’ll work they’ll use it no matter what the rules are. But there’s a real value to pretending that there’s an absolute rule against it even if we know people will break it in extraordinary circumstances, because it ensures that people won’t mistake an ordinary remedy for an extraordinary one.
The White House, DoJ, and DoD torture memos are all designed to do precisely the reverse.
So now we have a choice, as voters: Are we going to ratify the decision to make torture (described in various weaselly ways) part of the policy of the United States, or are we going to reject it by replacing those responsible?