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Religion & Law: Mirror of Justice
The veto and consequentialism
By Rick Garnett
It seems to me that we could think about the President's decision to veto the bill that would have limited the CIA to those interrogation techniques authorized by the 2006 Army Field Manual in (at least) two ways.
First, we could consider whether we agree with the President's view that "[t]he bill Congress sent . . . would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror" or whether, instead, we think that the techniques the bill would have banned are not, in fact, useful or necessary to protect Americans from terrorists. (Senator Kennedy noted, for example, that the Army field manual contends that harsh interrogation is a "poor technique that yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say what he thinks the (interrogator) wants to hear.")
I take it we all agree that the President is obligated to do what he can -- within the bounds of prudence and morality -- to protect Americans from terrorists. Do we also agree, though, that (a) few, if any of us, are qualified to resolve the debate over whether the techniques in question -- including waterboarding -- yield reliable, valuable results; and, in any event, that (b) the morality of the techniques in question does not depend on whether they yield reliable, valuable results? Or, do some of us think that the question whether a particular act is moral does, in fact, depend on the consequences of that act? Do those of us who believe that the President was wrong to veto this bill also believe that proportionalism -- once characterized by Fr. McCormick as the view that "an action is morally wrong when, all things considered, there is not a proportionate reason in the act justifying the disvalue [caused by the act]" -- represents an unsound approach to moral questions generally, or only to moral questions involving the treatment of detainees?
The second approach to the question, I suppose, would be to ask whether the various techniques that the bill would have banned are -- wholly and apart from our guesses about their usefulness, and wholly and apart from the question whether they are listed in the Field Manual -- immoral, because they cannot be reconciled with the treatment due a person -- any person -- made in the image and likeness of God. And, on this approach, could one that different answers might be warranted for some techniques (I have not seen the entire list) than for others?
UPDATE: Just to be clear: I am *not* suggesting here that different answers *are* warranted; again, I have not seen the full list of techniques. Some of the ones that have surfaced in news reports strike me, for what it's worth, as worthy of the same answer I think we should give with respect to waterboarding.
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