The GOP has smoothly moved from "we don't torture" to "yeah, we torture, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do". Their method is to first premise conditions under which the "good of the many" is so vast that any crime seems justified. Then, once the precedent is established, they move on to institutionalizing torture as "a last resort".
This honesty is a risky form of progress. On the one hand it fully exposes what they do in our name, on the other hand it moves American another step closer to Pol Pot. (I think we're close enough now to make out his smug expression.)
I figured it was time to refute this position, but today I found Clive Crook has already stated my position fairly well (emphases mine):
FT.com | Clive Crook's blog: Update: It depends what you mean by tortureBush is putting millions of men and women in harms way. He asks them to risk their lives and health for America. In the unprecedented theoretical circumstance that torture is justified, he should take the responsibility and be willing to face the legal consequences -- including life in prison. If he can't take that responsibility he's a coward and should resign immediately.
...Whether the law leaves room for doubt about whether waterboarding is torture is one thing; whether the law ought to leave room for doubt on that point is quite another. In my view, the law should be clear: waterboarding is torture, and all torture is illegal.
Stuart is sympathetic to the view that ruling out a technique like waterboarding under any and all circumstances would be a mistake. Would it still be wrong, he asks, if the information elicited saved hundreds or thousands or millions of lives? It is a fair question, and one that most commentators on this issue are reluctant to confront. But one could ask the same question of any kind of torture, however vile. Would it be immoral to roast somebody over a slow fire, if the information elicited saved hundreds or thousands or millions of lives? I dare say that nobody, not even Alberto Gonzales, will argue that roasting somebody over a slow fire is not torture....
...One can conceive of rare circumstances in which waterboarding or any other kind of torture might be ethically justified. To say that torture is always and necessarily immoral seems to me to betray a lack of imagination. But a wise government would not allow for that contingency by making the practice legal. In those very rare cases, the interrogators would have to expose themselves to prosecution, and a jury would decide whether or not to convict, weighing what they did against their reasons for doing it. To make torture legal, even under rare circumstances, is to institutionalise it. That is both immoral, and for the reasons just cited, deeply unproductive in the war on terror.
Laws exist for a reason. I can imagine circumstances where I'd torture someone to save my children, but I'd expect to forfeit my own life for having made that choice.
That's the sacrifice civilization demands. If we can't do that, we don't deserve democracy, and we don't deserve civilization.