The news of how Osama bin Laden was finally tracked down and killed has caused a predictable outbreak of consequentialism. It appears that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed provided some of the key intelligence that led to the successful operation in Pakistan while he was undergoing “enhanced interrogation” in CIA prisons in Rumania and Poland. “See?” Dick Cheney’s fans are saying today. “Rendition and torture work. We wouldn’t have killed Bin Laden without them. So what do you think of those tactics now?” The opponents of torture who foolishly argued against it based on pragmatic considerations—“Torture doesn’t work!”—rather than ethical ones–-“It is absolutely wrong!“—set themselves up for this. Now what should they say?
They should say this: Torture and rendition remain betrayals of the humanistic values and democratic principles that the United States was founded upon, and the fact that they are sometimes effective and can occasionally achieve objectives in warfare and intelligence that would be difficult to achieve otherwise in no way mitigates their essentially unethical nature. The use of those methods, in violation of international laws and American dedication to the cause of human rights and dignity, has done immeasurable harm to our nation’s integrity, credibility, national culture, and moral authority, and if I had to choose between Osama bin Laden still living on the earth, and America having to surrender its core and founding values in order to kill him, I would choose to let the terrorist live in a heartbeat.
Where torture by a nation dedicated to preservation of each human being’s inalienable rights is concerned, the end can never justify the means—even if the end is the death of Osama bin Laden.