Philosophers and ethicists have long pondered whether a good and noble end justifies any means of attaining it. The age-old debate has come up again with the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA detention activities following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Consequentialists (like Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and currently Sam Harris and Peter Singer) would argue that good outcomes justify the means employed to accomplish them. President Harry Truman reasoned that dropping atomic bombs on Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, was justified because it avoided an even more ghastly loss of life in an American invasion of Japan.

On the other hand, deontologists conclude that the morality of an act derives from the act itself rather than the outcome. They are certain that killing or torturing people is always wrong even if it saves many more innocent lives.

Thirteen years after 9/11, we are discovering and pondering the details of the methods our government employed to track down the people who attacked us, their support networks, and those organizations and individuals who make no secret of their intent to harm Americans.