In this week's Weekly Standard
, columnist Charles Krauthammer takes issue with the idea of a "no torture, ever" policy, arguing that in some cases, torture may not only be morally permissible, it may be morally required.* And"once you have gone public with a blanket ban on all forms of coercion," he argues, "it is going to be very difficult to publicly carve out exceptions."
Andrew Sullivan responds in The New Republic
that, while Krauthammer is right that torture may be necessary in rare circumstances, that does not mean it needs to be legalized. Sullivan suggests, instead, that while we should place a legal ban on torture, we must recognize that such a law may have to be broken. For example, the President in a hypothetical "ticking time bomb" situation might simply have to violate the ban.
This is a clever turnaround of Krauthammer's argument, and I applaud Sullivan for it. At the same time, Iím disappointed in Sullivan for passing the buck on the important moral question of whether torture is ever permissible. "Well, maybe
it is, but I
don't want to be the one to enshrine that in law...let's leave it up to the president to decide...when the time comes..." Well, we all know what happens when we do that
The bottom line is, America
needs to decide whether torture should ever be permitted. Even for those who were horrified by the events at Abu Ghraib, this may be a difficult decision when they walk through some of Mr. Krauthammer's hypotheticals. But it is a decision we
have to make.
You and I can argue about whether or not torture is ever excusable, but what is definitely inexcusable is to shun responsibility for what our government does to people in its custody.*"Ethics 101: A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in one hour. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist. He knows where it is. He's not talking....Not only is it permissible to hang this miscreant by his thumbs. It is a moral duty."