John Schwenkler lays it out:

...the important discussion about torture – which is to say: the discussion about torture that we need to be having, as opposed to the one we’d be in a position to have if not for all the things that happened on our government’s watch – is a discussion about whether, given the circumstances that actually obtained, the things that agents of our government did to prisoners and detainees were warranted. Whether there are some other possible circumstances in which some of those behaviors might have been warranted or even morally required is an entirely separate question, and while it’s of some philosophical interest it clearly ought to be far less important to us than the question of whether what we did constituted torture; and as such, it’s generally quite hard to see the insistence on posing wild counterfactuals rather than dealing with real-life cases as anything but a ruse.

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