Taming The Prince, Ctd.

Linker responds to my post:

Andrew here appears to be admitting that a principled rejection of torture may very well come at an enormous cost to the United States. How many cities would be too many to lose? How many "countless" lives would we be willing to see extinguished for the sake of the principle that we ought never torture? If the principle is absolute, then the number has to be infinite: the United States should accept its own destruction rather than torture a single individual.

But I submit that this can't be right. Our leaders have a moral duty, a solemn responsibility, to defend the common good -- to defend the nation against those who would destroy it -- and when the threat is sufficiently grave, this moral imperative may demand that we diverge from our moral principles. How far should we be willing to go in defending ourselves?

Long ago, I conceded that in the one-in-a-million chance (a scenario that has never happened and almost certainly never will) that a terrorist could defuse or locate a weapon of mass destruction in a highly populated city, and there were minutes to spare, and we knew the suspect knew, a president could try torture as a very, very last resort, if he subsequently presented himself to the relevant legal authorities for trial. (I imagine a jury would acquit if the event occurred in incontrovertible good faith).

But apart from that, I simply do not believe that torture ever provides the accurate intelligence we need to prevent such an attack; and believe that more laborious intelligence and much more skillful non-coercive interrogation is the only way to prevent it - and, even then, the chances of being able to do so completely are alarmingly slim in the very long run.

So the dilemma doesn't really exist in the practical world. But I freely concede that in an open and free society, with the dangers inherent in Jihadist terror, in an age of mass destruction, there will almost certainly come a time when we will have to endure serious human and physical damage. Unless we get much smarter or get really lucky, this will happen. It only takes a handful of people in a vast country with relatively open borders to do enormous damage, as we found out on 9/11. And they didn't even have WMDs. If Jihadists really want to murder us (and they do) and if weapons of mass destruction get into their hands (and what are the odds against that at some point in our lifetimes?) then we will have to endure what the British endured in the Blitz and the Germans endured in Dresden and the Japanese endured in Hiroshima.

And if we do not have the Constitution on the other side of it, the victory will be theirs'. Yes: that's what America means - freedom, not total security. Man up and face it, like the first Americans did. Believe in our system as powerfully as they believe in theirs'.