If the prohibition of torture is truly unjust, then is a little civil disobedience too much to ask for? Where is our Thoreau with thumbscrews? Jim Henley questions the torture enthusiasts’ depth of conviction:
- Okay, here’s the scenario: Terrorists have planted a nuclear weapon in a major American city and if you don’t stop it millions will die. If you have any sense of honor at all, wouldn’t you give your own life to stop that? Most of us would say yes, wouldn’t we? What about prison? If you could save them at the cost of spending years in prison, maybe even the rest of your life, wouldn’t you have to make that choice? As bitter as the years might be, could you live with yourself knowing that you allowed a nuclear holocaust just so you could live out your own days in comfort and freedom? Fair? No. But what kind of man or woman worth the gametes that got them going could look someone in the eye and say, “I could have prevented it, but I would have suffered.”
So if it’s ticking bombs that worry you, what do we need laws permitting torture for? Do the crime, save the lives, then do the time. …
On a related note, Jesse Walker cites MLK’s critical distinction between legality and justice, and adds a critical distinction of his own:
- I think the political rhetoric of the ’80s hit its low point when Oliver North’s apologists tried to defend his Iran-contra operation as an act of King-like civil disobedience, as though there were no difference between citizens refusing to respect unjust laws and officials refusing to respect the legal limits on their power. I suppose it’s only a matter of time before someone trots out the same argument to excuse the NSA’s illicit wiretaps.
It won’t be long. Witness Judith Miller’s application of the principle in her courageous stand for the rights of all statists:
- The right of civil disobedience is based on personal conscience; it is fundamental to our system and it is honored throughout our history.