Some believe that when it comes to counterterrorism, the end always justifies the means; that torture, abuse, the suspension of civil liberties – no measure is too extreme in the name of keeping our citizens safe. But unfortunately, this view is short-sighted and wrong. When nations violate human rights and undermine the rule of law, even in the pursuit of terrorists, it feeds radicalization, gives propaganda tools to the extremists, and ultimately undermines our efforts. The international community cannot turn our eyes away from the effects of these tactics because they are part of the problem. I know that the United States has not always had a perfect record, and we can and must do a better job of addressing the mistaken belief that these tactics are ever permissible.
That was Hilary, of course. I just wanted to highlight, in case it wasn’t obvious, the tension in this argument. She’s trying to motivate the conclusion that rights should always be respected; violating human rights through torture is never right. And yet, when it comes to defending that claim, she doesn’t just say that humans rights are a good thing to be committed to categorically because of anything intrinsic to persons. She starts invoking the ineffectiveness of torture in saving lives. And that type of justification just won’t wash because it’s perfectly conceivable that, in principle, in some situations, torturing someone would save lives.
Now, maybe it’s right to violate rights in such rare cases. Maybe Hilary thinks it’s right. Or maybe she just thinks the American electorate would judge it right so she has to try to defend her anti-torture stance in this way. But the only sincere method through which the conclusion that torture is always wrong can be motivated is to insist that any consequences it has for American security is besides the point. If you invoke the irrelevant, prepare for some awkward examples in which the argument falls apart.
Hat Tip: The Dish.