Friday, December 12, 2014

moral posturing on torture just isn't good enough...,

chicagotribune |  This was not a single, forgivable instance of terrible action under duress. It was an elaborate and ongoing system. In thinking through the rights and wrongs, that matters. There's a difference between ordinary mass killing and building a concentration camp.

Knowing only as much as this — that torture is disgusting, that it didn't work, and that the standard line of justification doesn't apply — you could accept that torture might be allowable in certain imaginable circumstances and still deplore the CIA program. To reach that conclusion, you don't need to consider the further, indirect costs of what was done. Let's consider them anyway.

The program was shameful and therefore had to be hidden. Congress was lied to. This undermined the rule of law — a matter on which the U.S. prides itself and likes to lecture the world. Notions of constitutional accountability were trashed by plausible deniability and outright lies. The CIA acted as a law unto itself, partly because it was allowed to, even asked to. (Just do what it takes. Spare us the details.) The program, in other words, was an assault on the American idea of lawful government.

Above all, it eroded, and continues to erode, America's moral standing. I'm less concerned about the effects this has on U.S. soft power and allies' willingness to cooperate, real as those may be, than I am with the effect on how Americans see themselves. To prevail in the struggle against enemies such as Islamic State, we need to know we are better than they are. It's important, when we feel revulsion at the video-taped beheadings of innocent people, that we don't also need to wonder if we aren't as cruel or as capable of evil.

Moral advantage makes you stronger. More than that, if we aren't better than they are, how much would it matter if they won?