In the televised debate of the 1988 US presidential campaign, candidate Michael Dukakis was asked whether in the event of the rape and murder of his wife, he’d favour the death penalty for the killer. Dukakis replied “No”, pointing out he’d always been against the death penalty and explaining the reasons why. Some analysts believed this answer a contributing factor towards him losing the election that year; others considered the question itself unfair.
I find this “torture is immoral and anyway it doesn’t work” argument, unsettling; for the simple reason that I imagine it can work. Likewise, the question to the former Governor of Massachusetts was valid, as was his answer, though something was missing; if a member of my family were murdered I’d want to kill the bastard. Yet both these acts - torture or state execution - are wrong. I don’t think there anything amiss in acknowledging this contradiction; it reminds us we are but a few steps from barbarism. Our response is the measure of any compassionate society.