Saturday, January 31, 2009

Just Waterboarding

Marc Thiessen on The Corner defends the moral basis of enhanced interrogation of terrorist detainees:
Those who oppose this program are preaching the moral equivalent of radical pacifism. Pacifism holds that killing is always wrong, therefore war--official killing by the state--is always wrong as well. This is both noble and naïve. Standing against this view is the Judeo-Christian tradition of "Just War" theory, which holds that there are circumstances under which war is permissible and indeed necessary, and ways in which it can be ethically conducted.

The same holds true for interrogations. There are circumstances under which coercive interrogations are both permissible and ethical--and the CIA program meets these just war standards.

First, the program is limited. We use enhanced interrogation techniques as a last resort, and on only a few individuals who have unique information about planned mass casualty attacks, and who are withholding that information.

Second, the program is restrained. Of the many thousands of people captured in the war on terror, less than 100 were taken into the CIA program. Of those, only a third ever had any enhanced interrogation techniques used on them. And of those, only three--three--were subjected to waterboarding. The CIA uses the least coercive method necessary to get information.

Third, the program is necessary. The individuals being questioned are often the only source of the information we need--there is no other way to find out what these terrorists are plotting and planning.

Finally, the program is for a moral purpose. We do not use these techniques to extract confessions or punish individuals for wrongdoing. We use them as a last resort, to get information needed to protect society and the lives of the innocent.

So not only is this program necessary, it is moral and it is ethical. We can defend it not just on pragmatic grounds, but on moral grounds as well.
See also Richard Cohen in Tuesday's Washington Post.

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