05/09/2011 03:54 pm ET Updated Jul 09, 2011

Since When Are Moral and Constitutional Violations Judged by Whether or Not They Work?

It is bizarrely fascinating to me that the conservatives have found vindication for torture, Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, foreign prison sites and illegal wiretaps in the location and killing of Osama bin Laden. Initially, there is the factual question as to whether any information gained as the result of these policies was instrumental in finding bin Laden or, if so, whether it could have been obtained otherwise, but that determination is irrelevant to the claim of vindication. Since when do we judge the violation of moral and constitutional principles by whether or not they worked -- some kind of risk/benefit analysis? The fact that there may have been some benefit derived from illegal or immoral conduct does not make it right or provide justification for it.

I can envision a limitless number of scenarios in which violating the Constitution would result in benefits. We could have prohibited nutty Pastor Jones from burning the Koran by violating his right of free speech. We could prevent tens of thousands of gun deaths every year if we prohibited the sale and possession of guns in violation of the right to bear arms. We could save billions of dollars annually by ending jury trials. We could find evidence and convict people more easily if we violated the prohibition against illegal searches and seizures. We could obtain more confessions if we didn't have to bother with that pesky right against self-incrimination. Endless benefits galore!

This gloating -- this refrain of "I told you so" -- that torture is right because it works is a syllogism from Hell. I can envision and concede that there might come a time when the government has someone in custody who knows where and when a terrorist plot is about to injure and kill a number of Americans and extraordinary steps may be necessary and allowed. But absent some imminent threat, "enhanced interrogation" is wrong even if it works because it is illegal and immoral. What we sacrifice in committing torture is far greater than anything we gain from it, and any gains derived make it neither moral nor legal.