02 March 2009

The Ends Don't Justify the Means

An H/T to Devin Maxwell for posting about Dan Leger's column in today's Herald. I am simply appalled by something he had written in it.

It wouldn’t be so bad if all the abuse and torture actually worked. But despite seven years of torture, "extraordinary rendition," secret arrests, extra-legal murder, kidnapping and abuse of human rights, bin Laden is still on the loose.

While we all hope that bin Laden and his gang of murderous accomplices will be found and brought to trial, we must also ensure that democratic states don’t destroy their values in the process. The rule of law can’t be allowed to become collateral damage in the never-ending war on terror.

I threw up a little bit in my mouth at the suggestion that if only we'd caught bin Laden by now, all of the unsavoury and illegal actions committed by liberal democracies in the name of the war on terror and tyranny "wouldn't be so bad." I generally agree with what Mr. Leger is attempting to say--that as a liberal democracy we must never lose sight of the values and principles that have helped make our societies some of the most successful in the world's history. As Michael Ignatieff has so astutely said, "We cannot torture...because of who we are." Some would argue that the ends justify the means; I disagree with them. The practice of waterboarding, the vile events which transpired at Abu Ghraib, and others have undermined who we are and what our guiding message has been to the people of the world living under the shadow of terror and tyranny: our system of government offers you a better way of life. When the people of Afghanistan or Iraq cannot see a distinction between the practices of bad old regimes and the nominally better ones, they have little impetus to want to fight to ensure the survival of the new regime. As liberal democracies, we are obligated to "fight with one hand behind our backs," so to speak. For while we must overcome the enemies of freedom when we fight, we must not do so in such a brutal fashion that we alienate those whom we seek to win over.
Capturing Osama bin Laden is of paramount importance in terms of the symbolism involved. But if his capture were a direct consequence of the torture of one of his accomplices, it would be tainted. Our moral high ground would be undercut. It would be viewed as one bad egg capturing another bad egg--both would stink. I do not believe that we should have to sacrifice our values and beliefs to capture him. The endgame simply would not be justified by those means.


Devo said...


You have responded to it. Sorry. I should have checked first.

I think we are on the same page here. I also think that Leger would probably take the 'if only' statement back if he could. My sense is that he was trying to make the point that the West is abandoning its values for strategies and techniques that don't even work. I am not sure that he is suggesting that it would be okay if it did.

I agree with you that's what he said, but I suspect he would change the wording if he could...

RGM said...

Hey Devin,
My inclination is that you're likely right regarding the statement. It looked very bizarre and out of place in the middle of an editorial lamenting that we had sacrificed our values in an effort to bring an end to the war on terror. It's unfortunate that comments on the editorial are closed and that he didn't put up a response.