Seeing nuance where no justifiable nuance exists

From The Corner at National Review Online comes this tidbit on torture. I won’t recap the whole discussion because it mostly veers off into a tangent about what sort of physical endangerment one would choose if captured, but there is a telling explanation made in the process. First, a basic assumption for torture from Jonah Goldberg:

And don’t tell me the analogy doesn’t work because the criminals are choosing torture of their free will. The terrorists in these hypotheticals choose torture too — when they decide not to divulge inforrmation [sic]. Everyone agrees that torture or even coercion for reason not directly tied to pressing need should never be tolerated.

Fine, terrorists choose torture when they don’t talk. What about American soldiers captured in the field of battle? If they’re tortured by their captors, do we dismiss it because they followed orders to reveal only name, rank, and serial number? Or do we denounce the torture as a gross violation of human rights and international standards of war? I agree that there’s a distinct difference between terrorists and American soldiers, but the underlying assumption of how a captor should treat a captive remains the same, I think.

As an aside, I don’t think everyone agrees that torture or coercion should never be tolerated without the ticking time bomb scenario. Many of the debates around the blogosphere reveal particularly nasty examples of people taking glee in the idea of torturing terrorists because the terrorists are bad. Modify the last sentence to “reasonable people agree” and we can move on.

Later, in response to reader reaction, Mr. Goldberg responds with this:

Moreover, innocent people would not choose torture. They would give up the information needed. Of course there is a very real and legitimate danger of torturing innocent people because we wrongly don’t believe they’re innocent, which would be awful — again just like killing or imprisoning innocent people is awful. But for the terrorist who knows that innocent men, women and children are about to be murdered and chooses to stay silent, I simply haven’t read a principled argument that makes the moral case against coercing this accomplice to murder that I personally find convincing. Contrary to what a lot of people think, that alone doesn’t make me “pro-torture.” It makes me unpersuaded by some of the more high-minded arguments of the anti-torture crowd.

I concede that that doesn’t make Mr. Goldberg “pro-torture,” but I still have a question that should seem obvious. How would an innocent person give up needed information? If he’s innocent, he doesn’t know anything to give up. How long do we torture him for withholding information before we realize he’s innocent? Does the torture inflicted remain justified after he’s no longer a suspect because he was thought to be a terrorist at the time of the torture? We know we’ve imprisoned suspected terrorists in the last four years who’ve turned out to be innocent individuals.

I simply haven’t read a reasonable argument that makes the legal case for torture compelling. That it’s also morally and politically devastating to the United States should also factor into what should’ve been a short debate. Senator McCain’s amendment should pass the Congress unchanged. President Bush should sign it.