Following up on our thread the other day on the philosopher Christopher Tollefsen, an economist friend writes to argue that, from his point of view at least, it's all quite simple:
A simple cost-benefit accounting:
If...[enhanced interrogation] reduces the quantity and quality of life of one person by less than 100%, say, by 0.15, while it saves the life of another person, the remaining sum is 1.85. If one person is not...[subjected to such interrogation] and another person dies as a result, the remaining sum is 1.00. If more than one person is saved--if we are talking about 100 people saved, even with the probability of just 0.01, and the...[interrogation] is applied to that end--the remaining sum is again 1.85.
There are limits to this sort of analysis--some things are wrong because they're wrong, no matter how much they might increase some measure of net well-being--but it gets at something, doesn't it? Subjecting a terrorist to rough questioning, even to waterboarding, harms him only by some small fraction of the harm that, if the technique works, many other people might be spared. The simple math squares with our simple intuition--with our common sense.
Economics. It has its uses.