The Social Ethics class won’t get to terrorism and civil rights for a while yet, but the question has come up in the first week of Obama’s presidency. We all heard Obama eloquently reject ‘as false the choice between our safety and our ideals’ in his inaugural address. Here is what I find interesting about this – what if it is not a false choice? What if, as a matter of fact, abolishing ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ in fact does make us more susceptible to terror attacks?
Mind you, I am not defending torture. I think the practices are morally reprehensible. But my tone with respect to torture is much more deontological than it is utilitarian. Torture is wrong because it violates the basic dignity of the person – no matter the consequences. In making what is frankly a more utilitarian argument (arguing that the consequences of standing up for our ideals will be more security than if we don’t), doesn’t Obama weaken the moral point? It is telling that his own intel team thought his executive order was a bad idea.
This is the problem with utilitarianism – if you are going to follow the consequences, then you have to follow them. If it turns out that abolishing torture makes us less secure, Obama will have no moral leg to stand on since his tone has been consequentialist.