To my knowledge the argument that torture would be justified to halt a nuclear bomb explosion dates back to an old article by Michael Levin, member of the philosophy department at CCNY:

http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/torture.html

Such an argument borrows from the Aristotelian notion that on occasions we must depart from standard principles to do justice — Aristotle’s use was positive, not negative, and resulted in our Common Law conception of ‘equity’ to rectify unjust consequences of the application of a general rule to an occasional, but rare, case.

Levin’s argument, if it justifies anything, only suffices for extreme exceptions to moral and legal rules and per recent evidence does not even work in individual cases where lying or deception is most likely to be its outcome. Torture, needless to say, sets horrendous precedents when it is generalized as a covert practice to be carried out by nations in dealing with enemies. It is, along with slavery, one of the two violations never permitted by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. As Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and rendering to other countries practiced by the Bush administration have all too embarrassingly disclosed, this practice has done us more harm more than any other of our overt actions. It has discredited the U.S. and subjected our motives and actions to global contempt and distrust. To state it again, whatever the anticipated gains, torture has cost us dearly around the world. The President of Iran can fairly call us a criminal aggressor nation in the train of this abhorrent miscarriage of justice.

Exceptions to general rules, then, may be justified in positive directions, but not negative ones. Hopefully this basic fact will sink in for all those who have bought this fallacious argument launched by Levin back when.

As a group of our generals apparently pointed out to Hillary Clinton, torturing others only invites torture of our own.

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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