Saturday, March 24, 2007

Is torture really okay?

There is an interesting Op-Ed piece in The New York Times by Slavoj Zizek entitled "Knight of the Living Dead" that challenges us to think more carefully about society's apparent willingness to embrace physical toture as okay at least in some exceptional circumstances:

SINCE the release of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's dramatic confessions, moral outrage at the extent of his crimes has been mixed with doubts. Can his claims be trusted? What if he confessed to more than he really did, either because of a vain desire to be remembered as the big terrorist mastermind, or because he was ready to confess anything in order to stop the water boarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques"?

If there was one surprising aspect to this situation it has less to do with the confessions themselves than with the fact that for the first time in a great many years, torture was normalized — presented as something acceptable. The ethical consequences of it should worry us all.

I agree with much of the sentiment expressed by the writer, except that I would choose to express the sentiment more strongly: only an absolute idiot could believe that torture is even remotely acceptable for even the most extreme of situations.

I myself am personally opposed to the death penalty, but I'm on the verge of allowing it for one exceptional situation: for those who commit, authorize, aid and abet, or even encourage torture. I wouldn't really want to make such an exception, but the breezy way that some people are willing to accept torture "in exceptional circumstances", regardless of whether a court or an attorney general or the president himself authorizes it, is truly an affront to human dignity.

Just say no to torture.

Of course, you could attempt to torture me until I agree to give up my beliefs. It would be interesting.

-- Jack Krupansky


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