When war causes us to suppress our deepest religious and moral convictions, we cave in to a “higher religion” called war. Yes, there is beauty in patriotism, in its unselfishness and love of country. But this beauty makes for what Reinhold Niebuhr called the “ethical paradox in patriotism”—a tendency to transmute individual unselfishness into national egoism. When this happens, the critical attitude of the individual is squelched, permitting the nation to use “power without moral constraint.”
It's easy enough to say that torture is bad (though it took President Bush a while to do so). But how does one address this classic ethical dilemma: a nuclear bomb is ticking somewhere in an urban area. The bomb-setter has been captured but refuses to divulge the bomb's location. Does one honor the rule against torture, or use whatever methods it takes, including torture, to get information that will save millions of lives? Even in this case, there's no guarantee that torture will produce accurate information. But the argument remains—an undeniable good might be done for innumerable innocents at the expense of evil performed on a single evil one.
President Bush’s nomination of White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to succeed John Ashcroft as attorney general will almost certainly intensify the focus on the use of torture in U.S. policy in the war on terror and the war against Iraq.
Two-thirds of Americans say the U.S. should abide by international laws barring governments from ever using physical torture, while 29 percent found those laws “too restrictive,” according to a new poll.
Vietnam veteran John Smathers and his wife, Judy, knelt at the altar rail at the Falls Church, a 272-year-old faith community at which George Washington once prayed, just outside the nation’s capital in Virginia. Holding a microphone, they bowed their heads before worshipers struggling to come to terms with disturbing photographs of American soldiers sadistically abusing Iraqi prisoners.
Both the International Red Cross and Amnesty International knew about the horrors of Abu Ghraib. Both organizations had sent reports detailing brutal behavior in U.S.-run Iraqi prisons to military authorities. But no action was taken until Specialist Joseph M. Darby alerted the army’s Criminal Investigation Division and mentioned photographs.