Letter: Ethics of torture

Alan Hinnrichs (Letters, 19 November) seems to think I was defending George Bush when I was rejecting a particular attack on him in order to employ a more pointed one.

I was not condoning the sorts of instances of torture that Bush tries to justify. My view is that even if torture could be morally justified in some rare circumstances, it might be unwise for the state to use it even then. The instances of torture that Bush defends do not even conform to these rare circumstances. Alan Hinnrichs writes: "I would simply ask Prof McLachlan if he would be prepared to do the waterboarding himself. Or is he, like so many of his fellow travellers, simply an armchair torturer?"

This is a silly question to pose since I do not approve of the waterboarding of suspected terrorists that he is referring to.

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There is no hypocrisy involved in claiming that particular actions one is not prepared to perform oneself are morally justifiable. For instance, those who say heart transplants and abortions are not always immoral need feel no compulsion to perform such operations themselves.

Nonetheless, suppose someone claimed that he had kidnapped a child or grandchild of mine and he would not reveal her whereabouts until he was paid. I might well consider that torture was justified and, if I could get hold of him before the police did, be prepared to torture him myself.

(Prof) Hugh McLachlan

School of Law and Social Sciences

Glasgow Caledonian University