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Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics

Volume 26, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2006

Jonathan Rothchild
Pages 125-156
DOI: 10.5840/jsce20062626

Moral Consensus, the Rule of Law, and the Practice of Torture

THIS ESSAY ARGUES AGAINST LEGAL, POLITICAL, AND ETHICAL JUSTIFICAtions for torture. In the expository sections of the essay, I juxtapose international prohibitions against torture with the current U.S. administration's justifications for harsh interrogation methods on the basis of military necessity and presidential prerogative. I examine the systematic and individual causes of the specific abuses at Abu Ghraib that were tantamount to torture. In the constructive sections of the essay, I retrieve the evolving standards of decency from Supreme Court cases and jus cogens peremptory norms from international law. I contend that torture is deontologically wrong and that the administration's arguments on solely teleological grounds are ethically flawed and contradictory. Engaging numerous interlocutors in law, philosophy, and Christian ethics, I reconceptualize the rule of law in terms of moral vision and an emerging moral consensus, and I hold that these terms provide a more adequate framework for evaluating and repudiating the practice of torture.