Here is a fine article by Richard Fernandez on the T-word.

He takes up an article by Jeff Jacoby which points up the moral dilemmas in all this:

Suppose the CIA had been denied permission to use brutal interrogation tactics, and Al Qaeda had consequently gone on to murder thousands of additional victims in California. What kind of conversation would we be having once it became known that the refusal to subject KSM to waterboarding had come at so steep a price? How many of those now blasting the Bush administration for allowing torture would be blasting it instead for not preventing a second bloodbath?

Fernandez makes the key point based on personal experience in the anti-Marcos movement that torture can be a very effective way of getting information from people:

…the probability is that torture works and for that reason its use constitutes a moral dilemma (emphasis added).

Plus he makes the point that all of us are capable of doing extraordinary things under extreme stress:

It is not often realized that the oath not to break under torture is very similar to Jacoby’s promise never to use coercion even as “a last and desperate option” against a brutal enemy. Fighting terrorism, like the promise never to break under duress, is a test of how much one can endure without crossing a line. And when fear and survival are stake, I am not sure at all what lines people won’t cross…

It is intellectually feasible to argue, as Jacoby did, that we ought not to use torture under any circumstances. In the same spirit, we could undertake not to employ Clinton-era “extraordinary rendition”, to which Guantanamo Bay was actually proposed as a more humane alternative; nor accept information from foreign intelligence agencies which use coercion as a method (any more than you would buy shoes made with child labor); and simply rely on such intelligence gathering methods as meet our moral standards and willingly endure the sacrifices implied. That would be a perfectly moral and consistent position.

But I am afraid that morality will shatter in the face of duress; that one day a biological weapon or a dirty nuke might be set off in one or a number of American cities and as the scale of the suffering and carnage becomes clear, that many — including the persons who are now so willing to sit in judgment of the persons who drafted the legal memos which guided Bush administration interrogation policy — will demand the authorities do something, anything, to put a stop to it…

There is one sense in which I unreservedly sympathize with Cheney’s request to reveal the “successes” of the coercive interrogation program: we ought to know all the facts before making up our minds about moral stances. We ought to look everything in the face. I find it curious that a society which thinks that the CIA’s destruction of the video record of the water boarding sessions is immoral can simultaneously maintain that showing the video of Daniel Pearl being beheaded is inflammatory or inappropriate. Let’s see it all.


And, thanks to the wonders of mobile telephone video technology, we can see the world’s current champion torturers in busy action.

So, the usual question.

At what point do we use lethal force to stop them torturing us?