Apparently I can't win. Over at Mark Shea's I got reamed for saying that not every form of coercion is necessarily torture. A lot of people were very angry with me. Over the last two days, I've gotten yelled and screamed at over at Dean Esmay's for saying that if waterboarding is torture then we shouldn't do it. It doesn't matter whether we do it to one or three or however many people, whether we do it to our own troops with their consent, or whether it leaves a physical mark.
As far as I can tell I'm not arguing two contrary positions. I'm saying that not all coercion is torture and that if something is torture (and I'm inclined to think that waterboarding is) then we shouldn't do it. Torture is wrong, but not everything that seems like torture necessarily is. When it comes to something like torture, I'm sympathetic to what Jimmy Akin calls (in the last line of his post) the Deerhunter Principle: unless you know it's right then don't do it.
My thinking is that we shouldn't do evil, even when our goal is to prevent a greater evil. Any evil, great or small, has a way of coming back to bite those who do it (good does this, too). Kind of like karma, which although a Hindu term is more-or-less present in Christianity as well. It's my belief that the end result of our doing evil to prevent what we see as a greater evil will be worse than if we declined to use wrong means; in other words, that the short-term benefit is outweighed by the long-term loss. We're the United States. We have two very big things going for us: our science and technological superiority on one hand and that we're generally the "good guys" on the other. We can't afford to sacrifice either one, but we especially can't afford to lose the latter quality. It's what separates us from mere bullies, such as (most of) the empires that flourished in centuries past. We abandon the high ground at our peril, and we do it for something as questionably useful as waterboarding at our own stupidity. Can't those who think we should sell ourselves find a better price?
UPDATE: The equivalent of the "chickenhawk" argument has been leveled against me: namely, that I've never been to SERE school and been waterboarded. True. As always, I thank those who serve and have served our country by volunteering to be put in harm's way. However, I have to believe that there's still a difference between super-intense training done by your countrymen and the same acts done by your enemy. John McCain, who actually was tortured, says that waterboarding is torture. There are many things on which McCain and I disagree, but I'm pretty sure he has as good or better of an understanding of torture as just about anyone else out there.
[The title song is by the now-defunct group Doctor Manette; the words are good but the ending is my favorite part, with it being almost-but-not-quite the same thing over and over.]