If Death Is Always Worse, Is Anything Permitted?
I have long taken it for granted that there are some things worse than death. Certainly torture, if severe enough, can be worse. Apparently this is not a universal view, however.
death is worse than torture, but everyone except pacifists thinks there are circumstances in which war is justified. War means killing people. If we are entitled to kill people, we must be entitled to injure them. I don't see how it can be reasonable to have an absolute prohibition on torture when you don't have an absolute prohibition on killing. Reasonable people will disagree about when torture is justified. But that, in some circumstances, it is justified seems to me to be just moral common sense. How could it be better that 10,000 or 50,000 or a million people die than that one person be injured? [emphasis added]The second half of Yoo's quote is the fairly traditional (albeit highly controversial) utilitarian argument that torture may be justified in extreme circumstances to save innocent life. In the first half of the quote, however, Yoo suggests that because "death is worse," then if one is allowed to kill one's enemy in wartime, one must be allowed to do anything else to one's enemy as well. Whatever one's view of the acceptability of torture, this can't be right. Unless one is going to argue that torture would be justified whenever killing would be justified, then the lack of an absolute prohibition on killing cannot establish that an absolute prohibition on torture is not "reasonable."