CURRENT AFFAIRS: Ethical and/or Legal

Lots of interest in the release of the so-called torture memos, and lots of interesting and deeply intense questions arise. I suppose I’m not interested in the legalities as much as the morality of the use of torture. For one thing, laws come to define a position established by a society only after they have decided the ethical question. It is also clear to me that what may or may not be legal does not always jive with what may or may not be ethical. The two are often in opposition just by personal belief alone, and sometimes on a larger scale of right and wrong.

This is a matter of grave importance and yet it is something that even as we see it in movies and on TV, we prefer to believe that we as a people do not condone the torturing of prisoners in order to obtain information. The thing is, we do, and we likely have to if we’re talking about the safety and security of our society under threat.

Now waterboarding has to be a horrid experience, and even if they claim it doesn’t hurt, it’s the fear of death and the sensation of drowning that’s got to be pretty horrible. But let’s go beyond that to inflicting shame–for some people, that’s worse, or to the intentional infliction of pain.  We don’t want to think we can do this to other people and we may be able to justify it by concentrating on the people who we’re saving, a self-defensive move. And there’s this, if we feel and agree that any manner of torture is not acceptable and is in fact immoral, then we have to assume that death is worse than inflicting pain, and that is certainly our intention when we arm thousands of men and send them out to face the enemy in a process called war. Maybe then, some things are unfortunately necessary.

It’s a tough thing to decide and it looks like we can’t pretend anymore that our country doesn’t do this except in the movies. Now that it’s out in the open, we may have to make some sort of decision. We can’t simply impose our own personal values on the whole of society, nor can we risk the welfare of that society by accepting the refusal of a terrorist prisoner to offer information that threatens it.  Quite the dilemma.

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