Volume 26, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2006
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.