Marc Thiessen & the Ethics of Torture
Marc Thiessen has been trading punches with liberal bloggers over the factual accuracy of his new book, Courting Disaster. My guess is that he’ll be vindicated on the facts — after all, he was there. But this argument is just a sideshow, because Thiessen is wrong on the ethics, and that’s the debate that really matters.
As many people have pointed out, a single act of waterboarding does not necessarily amount to torture. But this misses the point. Waterboarding would be useful only if it was done in a way that amounted to torture. Here’s what Christopher Tollefsen (a professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina and co-author with Robert P. George of the book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life) has to say today about Thiessen’s argument:
In any event, the upshot of my discussion is this: if, as the double effect defense presupposes, waterboarding or some other interrogation technique is done in a way that is expected to cause harm to the suspect, then that harm is most likely intended as a means by the interrogator and double effect will not justify it. And if such techniques are performed with the intention to cause pain, but not either direct physical harm, or psychological disintegration, then they are likely to be ineffective. Either way, it is, in my view, a good thing that United States’ policy has moved (as it did in the second Bush term) beyond the grim, if understandable, policies of the first few years after 9/11.
This is not a strident statement, but it’s implications are clear and important: the United States must not resume waterboarding detainees and Marc Thiessen should stop justifying his claims by misapplying the Catholic moral tradition.
Mark Shea recently denounced Patrick Lee, another leading Catholic thinker, for “making the usual excuses for the Bush administration.” Maybe Lee has been insufficiently polemical, but I hope Shea will acknowledge the fact that Lee has written clearly that the Bush administration did engage in torture. From Lee’s 2006 article in the American Journal of Jurisprudence (Vol. 51, pg. 206. Not available online.):
Pain by itself does not seem effective in the military situations envisaged in the current debate about what should and should note be allowed in the interrogation of suspected committed terrorists. This is why prolonged beating and prolonged deprivation of sleep, together with other methods (hooding, forcing the detainee to stand or sit for hours or days in contorted positions), plus other activities have been resorted to. In such actions, however, it seems that there is a complex set of actions designed to reduce the detainee to a “dis-integrated” state [Lee’s definition of torture -MS].”
Even Lee, who has been denounced by one torture opponent, thinks that what Thiessen defends is torture. How much room does that leave for Thiessen? He wants us to listen to his expert voice on the facts of the Bush interrogation program. Fair enough. But that means he needs to listen to the experts on the ethics.