I am reading a fascinating book these days, titled: Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds of and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying To Destroy America
The author describes his work in using torture, euphemistically called Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (or EIT) to fight the war on terror.
He not only used EIT, but he also invented many of the procedures and protocols.
And in many ways, he was very successful. EIT works.
The distinction between torture and EIT, of course, is perhaps a matter of perspective. James used techniques that were more effective and efficient. And the goal wasn’t pain; the goal was to break down the resistance of the evil terrorist.
Using torture (aka EIT), James was able to break people who otherwise were incredibly stubborn and difficult to break.
What is fascinating is the realization that the two inventors of new efficient torture or Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, felt trapped.
On the one hand, they were the experts and could do a great job that balanced the need to extract information and the need to be brutal and on the other the realization that if they didn’t participate innocent people would die and fewer expert torturers would be used.
Repeatedly in the book they try and explain their moral dilemmas and their personal repulsion to the whole activity and their attempt to figure out where exactly was this line they felt they may be crossing.
Reading the book, made me think of the morality of expert advice. Were these torturers making a moral choice?
Is the defense – well the alternative would have been worse a good one?
As technologists, increasingly we will be asked to do evil things. And is the defense that the alternative is worse, defense?
As a student of the second world war, if Albert Speer had not helped Nazi Germany the war would have ended sooner. If Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt had not been as effective a defender of Germany, fewer lives would have been lost.
In short, less evil is still evil.
To quote Gandhi, the only moral response to evil is non-co-operation. Mitigating evil, will not make the evil less evil.
I hope never to have this kind of moral quandary.
What I do know is that as more and more of evil will require engineering, we all have to ask ourselves, is it better to mitigate evil or not to do it?
And I hope, and I pray that we all choose the only moral choice, there is no mitigation of evil, there is only non-cooperation.