Thursday, November 15, 2007

Drawing the line

One of the stock objections to waterboarding or other examples of “enhanced” interrogation is the question of where to draw the line. This, of itself, is not a bad question.

However, in the debate over counterterrorism, it’s generally a trick question since those who pose it don’t want to draw any lines. They simply want to ban anything they are pleased to call “torture,” without defining their terms or drawing elementary moral and practical distinctions.

The word “torture” has many associations. When, however, the word is used to designate anything from mutilation to sleep deprivation to infringement of “soul liberty,” when no distinction is drawn between physical and psychological duress, when no distinction is drawn between the use of physical or mental duress to inflict punishment, deter political opponents, extract a criminal confession, or obtain operational intelligence from a terrorist, then the word loses all moral utility.

In terms of Christian ethics, a Christian is not prepared to do whatever the enemy will do. He is not prepared to win at any cost, by any means necessary. For one thing, a Christian should never use *sinful* means to obtain information. So there are situations in which we must leave the outcome to providence and suffer the consequences.

However, one reason I don’t attempt to draw a line in the sand on interrogatory techniques is because I’m not a professional interrogator. I don’t know for a fact what techniques are used and how effective they are. I don’t know enough to draw the line.

For obvious reasons, governments are generally reluctant to publicize their methods of counterterrorism. So you have to rely on unconfirmed reports or leaked information—which may be unreliable.

This has put the Bush administration in a bind. In order to respond to its critics, it has to say *something*—without, however—tipping its hand to the enemy. So, for example, George Tenet tells us that “enhanced interrogation” has been invaluable in obtaining information that enabled us to preempt some terrorist attacks that were in the pipeline. But he’s not going to go into a lot of specific detail since that would compromise methods and sources.

On a final note, it’s odd to see how many critics who are ordinarily opposed to theonomy act as if our foreign policy should be dictated by Christian ethics. I happen to agree. And it would be nice if they were more consistent in that regard.

Even a secular critic like Jim Lippard faults the Christian community for failing to condemn the official use of “torture.” Apparently, Lippard is a closet theocrat who hopes to see Christian values enacted into law. I applaud his newfound conviction that Christians should legislate morality. I’d simply encourage him to extend the codification of Christian values to other areas of public policy.

Victor Reppert is another church/state separationist who, when it comes to “torture,” suddenly becomes a card-carrying theocrat. Truly, the war on terror makes strange bedfellows. The only remaining question is whether Lippard and Reppert plan to cast their vote for Mike Huckabee or Ron Paul.

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