So I note that this guy named Volokh, who I hardly ever read, except when he is linked to by someone else, came out in favor of torture carried out by victims of some heinous murderer (which apparently is actually a form of punishment employed in Iran - who knew?).
Now I sort of know what he means; there is a sort of visceral "Yesssss!" in the deepest parts of the lizard-brain ID section of the psyche when you hear this sort of idea. The same feeling you have when the lead character in one of those revenge action movies kills or hurts someone who killed or hurt his wife or daughter.
In fact I had a conversation about torture with my husband yesterday, in which we both thought of a good example of a person we'd like to see tortured - without having heard anything about this particular article:
Husband who is watching TV: (He is Egyptian by the way, in case anyone finds that relevant): They gave the guy only 15 years. The Enron guy.
Me: (Who has not been following the story and who is in the kitchen not near the TV): What Enron guy? Ken Lay?
Husband: No, he got life. (short conversation on how nice the prisons are that these guys get to stay in) This other accountant who was responsible who only got 15 years.
Me: (linking to lizard portion of brain) Never mind all those guys who lost their life savings. Boy, you know, I am usually against torture, but...
Husband: Yeah! And let the employees who lost all their retirement, inflict it!
Me: Starting with the fingernails....
Husband: You are not nearly creative enough.
(pause, in which we remember that we are humans, not lizards)
Me: Well, if we believe in God's eventual justice, I suppose they'll be bad off enough when they eventually die.
Husband: What about the guys who, because of them, and because they lost everything, committed suicide?
Me: Are you saying God would punish those people or something? (I sometimes don't understand the point he leapt to)
Husband: No, I was being sarcastic. (Me to myself: Whatever...) I do think that a deep part of Hell is reserved for those Enron accountants. (Conversation veers off into how they deceived people and other details)
What I notice about the whole torture debate, which started actually before the Abu Ghraib thing but has become more and more normal to bring up, is the same point I brought up in an article I wrote after the looting of the Baghdad Museum. It's not original (few well-said points are - you'll always find that someone else said it better, earlier). The gist is that the veneer of civilization is very, very thin. And underneath is that animal base.
Even those of us who do, really, truly, believe torture is a *bad* thing and not to be carried out under any circumstances, can have a half-joking, half-ashamed discussion with our significant others about people who really outrage us and how nice it would be to do unspeakable things to them.
The key, for me, is that the "half-ashamed" should be the half that always stays on top.