The debate over torture is not as simple as it seems. Those of us who oppose torture under any circumstances should admit that ours is an unpopular policy that may make us more vulnerable to terrorism
It is difficult to think about torture honestly. In a recent article on the interrogation techniques employed by the US, the writer Mark Bowden observed that few “moral imperatives make such sense on a large scale, but break down so dramatically in the particular.” The moral imperative—do not torture, any time, anywhere, in any circumstances—is mandated by the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency,” says the convention, can “be invoked as a justification of torture.” That terrorists themselves torture does not change these imperatives. Our compliance does not depend on reciprocity.
As long as we stay on this high ground of unconditional prohibition, we seem to know where we are. Problems begin when we descend into the particular, when we ask