Thursday, June 7, 2007

Just Torture Doctrine: Reality Outparodies Parody

"To accept torture, even to approve of it and to impose it, is not ultimately difficult. It is sufficient to be convinced that the cause you espouse is just, that the action being undertaken is indispensable and that because of this the end justifies the means." Anonymous torturer in Jean-Pierre Vittori, Confessions d'un professional de la torture, p. 15.

Nearly 25 years ago, Jesuit peace activist Richard McSorley came up with a parody of just war doctrine that he called the "just adultery doctrine." The just war doctrine has been so hallowed by tradition, claimed McSorley, that few people recognize how inadequate it is. But if you substitute "adultery" for "war," the analogy makes obvious what's too frequently missed: that just war criteria are casuistries intended to make what's morally unjustifiable sound noble.
Some of the traditional criteria for a just war, for example, are (1) last resort (go to war only if all diplomatic alternatives have been exhausted); (2) good intention (to create peace, not create havoc); (3) discrimination (make sure that innocents aren't harmed); and (4) proportionality (the option of going to war must be carefully measured against its likely outcome).
Seem reasonable? Not if you push the adultery analogy: (1) last resort (every other means short of adultery--discussion, advice, reconciliation of spousal differences, etc--must be tried and exhausted); (2) good intention (not to cause pain to one's spouse or children; the adultery must be motivated by genuine affection, not by mere lust); (3) discrimination (every effort at secrecy and caution must be made so as not to harm spouses or children); and (4) proportionality (the foreseeable harm to absent partners and to living children must be weighed against the need of affection and love on the part of the adulterers).
McSorley concluded that if armed conflict which meets just war criteria is thereby moral, then adultery which meets just adultery criteria is likewise moral. But this is so counter-intuitive that just war doctrine needs to be radically rethought.
McSorley intended his parody of just war doctrine to cast doubt on its moral authority. What he couldn't have foreseen--what reasonable person could've?--is that the moral justification of torture typically appealed to by both governments and citizens in the street is itself just as laughable a parody of just war as McSorley's adultery analogy. The big difference, of course, is that defenders of torture don't get it. They take the parody seriously.
Here's the just torture doctrine. Torture as an interrogatory method is morally acceptable (and even morally obligatory, if the stakes are high enough) if it fulfills certain criteria. These include (1) last resort (every other kind of "non-enhanced" interrogation has been tried and found wanting); (2) good intention (the intention of the torturer and the government authorising torture mustn't be to hurt the tortured so much as to gain information from her. So a "double effect" standard is invoked here. Moreover, the primary intention of the torturer must be to protect the well-being of society); (3) discrimination (every effort must be made to guarantee that the person being tortured actually possesses the information the interrogator wants. Of course, this can never be known until after the torture begins); and (4) proportionality (the torture being considered must be weighed against the possible outcomes of the torture--for example, the death or mental/emotional/ spiritual/physical incapacitation of the tortured).
And there you have it. In this new world order in which reality outparodies parody, torture is morally just, up is down, left is right, and Elvis hasn't left the building.