Friday, September 28, 2007

Saving Lives v. Torture

At a recent debate in New Hampshire presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was asked by moderator Tim Russert, "if there should be a presidential exemption to allow the torture of a terror chieftain if authorities knew a bomb was about to go off, but didn't know where it was."
Her response was "It cannot be American policy, period."

Apparently contradicts a previous position Senator Clinton staked out. I think this issue deserves to be logically dissected to see which of her positions is the correct one.

First I think we an all agree that torture is bad. It dehumanizes both the victim and the perpetrator. On a more selfish note if you torture enemy POW's it opens your troops to retaliation. As a criminal investigative technique it is flawed because obviously confessions gained by torture are of suspect reliability.

But what about the situation posed by Mr Russert?

Under western common law if you kill someone to save your own life or the life of another you are not guilty of murder. The classic example is someone puts a gun to your spouses head and says they will kill them if you do not shoot the person standing next to you. Now this deals with the issues of duress and that no one is forced to give up there life for another but it is also illustrative of how we value life. It is permitted under the Western Judeo-Christian ethic to take life to save life. Another example is even clearer. Is there anyone who would argue that it would have been wrong to assassinate Hitler. Of course not. It would have saved millions of innocent lives.

So if we could save multiple lives or even one life by torturing someone (less extreme then killing them) wouldn't that be the sensible thing to do? Not only would it be the sensible thing to do but it is the morally and ethically correct thing to do. You are trading the dignity of one human for the lives of thousands or hundreds or even one but do not those innocent lives have a higher value then the dignity of one terrorist?

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