Edited by Sanford Levinson
Oxford University Press, $29.95, 319 pp.
Why debate torture? Unqualified rejection seems the only position for any decent person. Discussion seems to promise no reward: Either we’ll be seduced by specious argument into relaxing our condemnation (a step toward corruption), or we’ll just end up where we started (in which case we gain nothing).
Whatever the appeal of this line of thought, in the shadow of 9/11, debates over torture are not likely to go away soon. The realization that there exist well-organized groups willing and able to undertake horrific acts of violence against the wholly innocent, coupled with well-stoked fears about weapons of massive devastation, have led some to ask publicly (and many more to wonder privately) whether we shouldn’t reconsider our absolute rejection of torture. Consider the much-discussed ticking bomb scenario: terrorists have hidden a hugely destructive bomb somewhere, and the only way to find its location and defuse it is by torturing a terrorist now in custody. Doesn’t such a case show that in some instances torture may be right? And don’t we want those entrusted with our safety to have this...