What are the real lessons of the debate about the use of torture in the “War on Terrorism”? I suggest that the real lesson is that people who live in fear always succumb to moral decline in the name of security. If we observe people infected by fear what do we see? They demand action, protection. Alleviate my fear no matter what it takes. No effort should be spared to remove my anxiety. Send the best of our youth overseas to confront the enemy and maybe die there or return maimed. Keep sending them back as long as it takes. Lock up anybody who looks suspicious. Confine them indefinitely and torture them if anyone in command thinks it might be necessary. Don’t tell me about it though; I don’t want to know the dirty details. Just keep me safe.
The decision to torture is not simply a difficult one; it is an impossible one. Why would I trust a government to do what I would not or could not do myself, namely torture another human being? Even if I claim to be personally capable of torturing in the name of security, would I do it in public; would I let my five year old watch me do it? What evidence of the need would suffice for me to be the one who “pulled the trigger”? Would the word of the President or the Secretary of Defense be sufficient? All these are relevant, even essential questions within this debate.
We need to remember and recognize that the Holocaust was justified by the very reasoning that prompts us to justify torture. “Dangerous” outsiders are so easily viewed as “sub-humans not worthy of any moral considerations”. Such thinking is the real danger because it makes the thinkers the sub-humans they so claim to despise.
The correct response to terrorism is not easy to determine admittedly, but the initial “kneejerk reaction” to do whatever seems expedient regardless of moral ramifications is devoid of justification. Live fearfully and you lose your very soul.