The release this week of the CIA inspector general’s report makes clear that the CIA interrogation program was both lawful and effective in stopping new attacks. But was it moral? I believe that Americans can be comfortable not only with the efficacy but also with the morality of this effort. Here is why.
The principle at work here is casuistry, in the proper sense of that term. Under casuistry, a just society adheres to certain moral norms. There are times when one finds exceptions to these norms, but the norm remains — and the exception must be justified. For example, the Ten Commandments teach us, unequivocally: “Thou shalt not kill.” Yet most of us agree that there are circumstances in which it is both moral and ethical to kill another human being. If a policeman sees a criminal who is about to kill an innocent person, he may use lethal force to stop him. If a foreign enemy threatens your country, it is permissible to go to war to defend it against such aggression. The norm — killing human beings is wrong — remains. But in some circumstances, killing — indeed, organized killing by the state — is morally and ethically permissible.
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