Magazine article The Christian Century

Tortured

Magazine article The Christian Century

Tortured

Article excerpt

IT'S EASY ENOUGH to say torture is bad (though it took President Bush a while to do so). But how does one address this classic ethical dilemma: A nuclear bomb is ticking somewhere in an urban area. The bomb-setter has been captured by police but refuses to divulge the location of the bomb. Does one honor the rule against torture, or does one use whatever methods it takes, including torture, to extract information that could save millions of innocent lives?

Even in this case, there's no guarantee that torture will produce accurate information. But the point remains--an undeniable good might be done for innumerable innocents at the expense of evil performed on a single evil one.

This is the argument that proponents of some forms of torture make (when they admit to doing anything unpleasant to prisoners at all). "Waterboarding" is an effective interrogation technique, some military officials claim, and they say it is not really torture, since it inflicts no permanent damage. Detainees are tilted backward, and their breathing passages are blocked with a wet rag (or, by some accounts, they are plunged under water) to simulate drowning. The Chicago Tribune recently quoted a Navy" SEAL who said that when he and his fellow trainees practiced the technique on one another, every one of them "broke" almost immediately. It's assumed that this was the technique used to extract information from the captured al-Qaeda mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

So is it permissible to do such harm on the way to doing good? …

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