The Senate Report on CIA Torture, Abortion, and ‘Who We Really Are’ as Americans:
A Response To Philip Kennicott
December 12, 2014 [Slightly revised 12/14/14, 12/30/14, & 12/31/14]
Dr. Mark S. Latkovic
The Washington Post’s art and architecture critic, Philip Kennicott, asks us to face some uncomfortable truths about our national identity and character in light of what’s been called the CIA’s torture report (See Kennicott, “After Senate’s report on CIA interrogation tactics, it’s time to see who we really are,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/after-senates-report-on-cia-interrogation-tactics-its-time-to-see-who-we-really-are/2014/12/10/6114e89c-809e-11e4-81fd-8c4814dfa9d7_story.html?wpisrc=nl-headlines&wpmm=1). It’s an interesting article – some of which I agree with, some of which I don’t. Like Kennicott, I believe torture – i.e., the infliction of severe emotional and/or physical pain to punish or coerce to the point where you “break” a person – is immoral (See also Phil Lawler’s three articles: http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otn.cfm?id=1062 and http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otn.cfm?id=1064 and http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otn.cfm?id=1066). It’s doing a moral evil to achieve a good (And saving lives is admittedly a good!). But I wonder if the author accepts as moral what he doesn’t mention in his piece: abortion. Since 1973, it’s been legal to eliminate unborn children in this country. And well over 50 million have been violently eliminated. If you’re willing to argue for abortion “rights” (usually done so based on some form of utilitarianism and anthropological dualism), then why isn’t it right to argue in favor of what the CIA did? You know, maim and torture (what the CIA calls “enhanced interrogation techniques”) some of our enemies in order to save many more American lives – especially in the context of a post-9/11 world when everyone thought another terrorist attack on the homeland was imminent? (cf. Charles Krauthammer, “A travesty of a report,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-the-torture-report-is-a-travesty/2014/12/11/53fedf80-8168-11e4-81fd-8c4814dfa9d7_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opin&wpmm=1).
As an additional point, it might be helpful for the author to introduce the ethical principle of “double effect,” especially when it comes to some U.S. drone strikes. Many opposing torture have been silent on the drone attacks. But the question remains: Why is it morally wrong to torture bad guys but morally right to maim and kill bad guys along with innocents with drones? (Cf. e.g., Andrew C. McCarthy, “‘Torture’ Thought Experiment,” http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/394340/torture-thought-experiment-andrew-c-mccarthy). The “principle of double-effect” goes something like this: we intend the good, say, in blowing up a bridge (or even an enemy combatant); while we accept as a possible consequence/side effect the loss of innocent lives that we do not intend to kill. But the evil effect cannot be the means we use to achieve the good effect and there must be some proportion between our means (which themselves must be morally good or neutral) and our ends. The principle is more than mere word games and has application to other areas of our lives, especially health care.