Global Ethics Corner: For Torture, Who Should We Prosecute?

April 24, 2009

Torture is wrong. Who is culpable?

Jurisprudence tries to define torture; but institutions and lawyers can split hairs. The distinctions aren't just legal. They are important if you're the intended victim or subject to prosecution.

Nevertheless, at some point no one disagrees; water-boarding qualifies.

We'll sidestep a debate about relative harm. Does saving thousands justify torturing one? Or fifty? We'll assert that torture is always wrong. So who do we prosecute?

The Contractors, who pushed for aggressive techniques?

The CIA officers, who interrogated?

The Justice Department lawyers, who drafted detailed memos?

The senior cabinet, who approved recommendations?

The President, who signed off?

Congress and the public, who didn't intervene?

Some followed their best legal advice. Some were driven by the threat. Some were ignorant of details. Some pursued the greater good.

Some followed political expediency. Few ask about the history. The effectiveness was debatable.

Historically both the makers and the implementers of policy were held liable, as in World War II or the Balkans.

Obama says the key point isn't past prosecution but the future.

What do you think? Who's culpable? The point people? The memo writers? The overseers? No one? Everyone?

By William Vocke

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