Torture is illegal. It is a crime in both peace and war that no exceptional circumstances can permit.As I've written before, I find this sort of legalistic way of looking at things highly unconvincing. The fact that something is illegal doesn't make it immoral. And the idea that there can never be any exceptions whatsoever to any particular law, is in my view an extreme and unrealistic position. He reemphasizes his point, stating
There can be no exceptions to our laws, and no attempts to bend them.This is complete nonsense. Laws are bent all the time. That's where interpretation comes in. And again, the idea that we can never permit any exception to a law is nothing more than blind legalism. Laws don't cover every eventuality. I would be willing to bet that most people who make such an argument with regard to torture, do not actually believe the principle they are setting forth. They would not argue that there should be no exceptions to other laws.
The following illogical passage reveals the crux of why General Guthrie holds such extreme, irrational views:
Absolute human rights represent a limit to utilitarian calculations and speculations on national interest. They are the Rubicon that no hypothetical consequences, even in dire “ticking bomb” scenarios, must force us across. Everyone, even the terrorist, is human. There are no untermenschen. To label the criminal subhuman is to exonerate him."Absolute human rights"? What are those supposed to be? That sounds almost religious. Human rights are not absolute, and Gen. Guthrie must know that. We recognize that individuals give up certain rights because of their actions. Even in the UK, criminals go to jail for their crimes, and are therefore deprived of their right to liberty -- a right most in the west consider fundamental. In the U.S. and some other countries we even deprive people of their right to life, if their crimes warrant it. If we can take away the right to liberty, or even the right to life, it stands to reason that certain individuals might also be subject to torture -- in certain extreme circumstances.
General Guthrie's "untermenschen" argument is clearly ridiculous and unsupportable. By his reasoning, we couldn't imprison people. According to his logic, by depriving people of their rights we label them as subhuman and therefore exonerate them. What an idiotic assertion. Many aspects of the punishments we inflict on civilian criminals in the west, could easily be interpreted as torture, especially given the broad, sweeping definition that most torture opponents like to rely on. I guess we should set them all free because they are now exonerated.
In his conclusion, General Guthrie argues
there remains a fundamental incoherence in the idea that we can sacrifice our morality nobly.There's one major problem with this argument. Those, such as myself, who maintain that there are certain exceptional circumstances in which torture can be justified, do not think that we are in any way sacrificing our morality. That's the whole point. If torture is justified then it isn't immoral. This is something that the moral absolutist torture opponents do not seem to grasp. Torture is not inherently morally wrong in all cases, just as imprisoning someone is not wrong in all cases. A moral absolutist argument against torture convinces no one, except those who already agree. The moral absolutist would have you believe that the person who is subject to torture does not matter, because the act of torture itself is morally wrong no matter who it is applied to. I, and many others find this sort of thinking fundamentally illogical. The circumstances and individuals matter. Torturing a known terrorist like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is not the same thing as torturing a mere suspect, or an innocent.