This Isn't About Islam

Damon Linker is uncomfortable with the "fury" that Greenwald and I approach the torture debate with:

In the end, the statesman needs to rely on his judgment -- on what Aristotle called practical wisdom (phronesis) and President Bush (and Stephen Colbert) called his "gut" -- in making the decision about whether and when and for how long and in what ways to deviate from what is normally right in order to "preserve the mere existence or independence of society" against its mortal enemies...

Judging the justice of the Bush administration's policies on torture thus requires answering a single (extremely difficult) question: Was the administration right to believe that militant Islam posed (and perhaps still poses) an existential threat to the United States? If the answer is yes, then its policies may very well have been justified and even demanded by the circumstances. If the answer is no, then its leading officials may well have been guilty of bending or breaking the law for no good reason -- most likely out of a combination of ignorance, fear, and paranoia.

But torture is the opposite of civilization. One cannot preserve democracy such an acid. Conor Friedersdorf responds:

Al Qaeda posed less of a threat than the Soviet Union, possessed of its doomsday arsenal, did at the height of the Cold War. Was torture morally permissible for the duration of that conflict? Would we have been better off with the Bush Administration’s torture policy back then, or did our pre-9/11 approach prove itself superior? Why does Israel, which seems to be in far greater danger of suffering an existentially threatening attack, find it prudent to prohibit torture? Should Great Britain have tortured German prisoners during WWII when it faced an existential threat to its survival? Should George Washington have tortured British prisoners? I don’t mean to suggest that these questions have easy or obvious answers, but it does seem clear that the Bush Administration thought torture more justified than numerous leaders who faced threats far more imminent and extreme.