The Fatal Naivete of Ruling Out Torture

The justification for torture of terrorists now is the scale of the horror it could avert.

BY: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach


Mention anything about torture, and hideous images of, say, the Spanish Inquisition are immediately conjured up. We picture innocent men and women whose only crime was not to embrace the correct faith having their feet forced into boots with razor sharp blades, being stretched on the rack until their joints were dislocated, or being blinded with hot irons.

With images like these, it's no wonder that the question of whether we should be torturing the terrorist mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, to elicit information arouses such powerful opposition. The battle cry immediately goes out: We Americans are not barbarians. We dare not stoop to the savage practices of terrorists. It is because we are different from them that our culture is worth fighting for, and theirs worth fighting against.

And all this is true.

But this sentiment of trumpeting our humanity and squeaky-clean morality as the foundation for our unwillingness to torture genocidal terrorists is counterbalanced by the horrific images of September 11. Yes, torture is gruesome, torture is hideous, torture is abhorrent. But so are scenes of the innocent workers at the World Trade Center plunging 100 stories to the ground rather than be incinerated by 2000-degree heat. Is the fact of 350 crushed, mangled, and murdered firemen any less grotesque than the prospect of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad being tortured--bruised and bloodied--so that we never have to witness an abomination like September 11 again?

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