I heard a teaser on NPR this morning that there is new evidence from the questing of certain detainees that undermines the best justification for torture. (BTW, is there more than one justification for torture? Isn’t the only justification that by torturing one person you get information that saves many?) I didn’t hear the story but I’m sure it has something to do with the effectiveness of information gathered from people being tortured. My thoughts are torture, however, do not depend on its effectiveness. I really believe we should not torture because we should be a people who does not torture. The idea of someone poisoning a citizen of the United States by direction of our court system troubles me as well. But unlike capital punishment, we have decided not to torture and it bothers me to backslide.

I’m reminded of the Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. We asked to bow down to a golden idol they refused. Even when threatened with execution by being thrown into a furnace. However, when thrown into the fire Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were not harmed. By refusing to give up what is essential to their character they survived.

Likewise, we continue to value human dignity and recognize limits on what we will do in the pursuit of our interests, even when it seems impossibly dangerous. Otherwise, we will lose who we are.

The full story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is in Daniel 3, and can be the source of much discussion.
The Beastie Boys rap which has less detail on the story is available here. Lyrics here, but why would you be satisfied to just read lyrics like, “I’ve got more stories than J.D. Sallinger.”

79 replies on “Torture”

The best comedic analogy I have heard was the kid who comes home from the candy store with his pockets full. his mom asked how he got it if he didn’t any money. The kid replies that he took advantage of the “five-finger discount.” Mom is shocked — she says “You shoplifted? That’s stealing!” The kids replies, “Call it what you want, but look at all this great stuff I got.”

Maybe torture works. Stealing works, too.

The joke points out an as yet undescribed limitation. Not being thieves is a part of who we are. However, I would have zero trouble with stealing to prevent a terrorist attack. In fact, if a sniper had a bomber about to detenate a bomb in his sights, I have zero problem with him pulling the trigger.

The moral question is what makes torture different? For those opposed to capital punishment, what makes it different from a cop shooting a guy about to kill a bystander, or the cop? What makes slavery different from other systemic economic oppression?

I think there is something different, but I’m not sure what it was. I’m not sure how to describe it in the abstract.

There’s the whole premeditation thing. Torture is a deliberate process, as is capital punishment. Economic oppression in general is a passive, could even be called unintentional, thing, whereas slavery is very intentional and oppresses a segment of the population on the basis of a personal quality over which they have no choice.

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