Thursday, April 23, 2009
With brief interruptions for Susan Boyle and Miss California, American television news has been dominated by torture. That torture was approved by Bush downwards is now certain as is the the fact that Abu Ghraib soldiers were imprisoned for acts that were based, directly or indirectly, on that approval. Whatever else is decided, it should be quite clear that if Lynndie England went to prison, then so should a lot of much more senior people, probably including, at least, Rumsfeld. Beyond that, things get a little murky. Did torture work? Unknown and possibly unknowable. Was there a ticking bomb justification? I doubt it - Al Qaeda would have to have been much dumber than they are to spread information about forthcoming attacks beyond those who needed to know. Was torture, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, justifiable? The Cheney/Rove defence is that it was because it worked, but, as I say, this is probably unknowable. The previous defence - that it was not really torture - is no longer viable. But the ultimate question is, of course: is torture absolutely wrong beyond all considerations of efficacy? The answer in western liberal democracies has to be yes. That answer does not require a metaphysical justification. It is just the way we are and how we define ourselves. That we might so define ourselves while averting our eyes - as Peggy Noonan has suggested - describes a likely state of affairs but cannot represent an explicit position. Torture is and will always be inevitable, it is a default human response. As John Gray has pointed out, that it should, once again have become quasi-respectable, is as clear as sign as any that ethical and moral progress is a myth. It is also as clear a sign as any that moments of respite from our fallen natures - like the moment provided by the institutions and mores of the liberal west - should be defended at all costs, not least against our own torturers.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 11:01 am