Here’s an intelligent defense of Benedict XVI. I hope he’s right, and I’m wrong.

JONAH’S POINT II: Two readers respond:

Goldberg’s argument is a non-starter. Our torture policy is not just immoral – it’s been implemented on people who are far, far from “mass murderers.” Just look at Abu Ghraib … or Ashcroft’s pathetic record on, you know, actually prosecuting real terrorists. Our torture policy is the worst of all worlds–it inflicts torture on innocent people thus creating far more many terrorists than would have existed if we had not tortured anyone at all.

I agree. We have many instances of sanctioned abuse (and even murder) of completely innocent people. The extreme case – the ticking bomb scenario – is, to my mind, another red herring. If such a situation were to emerge, the president’s emergency executive powers could allow him to violate the law in an exceptional circumstance. Those who made such a call might face criminal sanction of even resignation. But they wouldn’t be stopped from doing the right thing in such an extreme case. The current system, where torture and abuse are lawfully permitted by the military and the CIA, has been a disaster on every level. Then there’s the profound moral point that Jonah’s remarkable relativism obscures. A reader explains:

[Goldberg’s] logic leaves me with a feeling of despair. Has he intentionally created a place where there is no morality other than within a particular context, a context that is always changing? Is this what the neo-conservatives (in the broad sense) have left us with? ‘The difference was that the people we put in prisons were criminals. The people they put in the Gulag were men of conscience like Solzhenitsyn and Sharansky.’

So torture is okay dependent on the moral standing of the tortured? And who decides such standing? And after what due process?


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