A friend directs our attention to a piece by Dane Shelly at the Institute For Global Engagement in which he outlines an argument which concludes that torture is an absolute moral wrong. After using the piano to illustrate that there are both proper and improper uses to which anything can be put, he writes:
Humans, no less than pianos, are created for a purpose. Treating them in ways that do not conform to that purpose is simply wrong. For this reason, torture is always wrong because that is not what we were created for.
God created humans in a way that gives moral weight to how we treat others. Torture, then, offends the natural order (and its Creator) for two reasons: Humans were not created to torture others, and humans were not created to be tortured.
The problem with Shelly's argument is that one can agree with everything he says without being compelled to accept his conclusion that torture is absolutely wrong. A couple of counterexamples may serve to show why.
Humans were not created to live in prison, or to imprison others, and therefore it would be wrong to incarcerate someone, unless there is just cause for doing so. The fact that imprisonment is a state of affairs for which we were not designed does not make it absolutely wrong.
I don't know how Shelly feels about gay marriage, but his premises would demand that he find it absolutely wrong since we were not created for homoerotic sex. Indeed, humans were not designed for anal intercourse, so Shelly would have to say that it's absolutely immoral for couples, whether homo or heterosexual, to engage in it. Shelly may in fact hold to that position, but if he doesn't then he's acknowledging that just because a certain behavior is not one for which we were created or designed doesn't necessarily make it wrong.
There is a danger in seeking to absolutize particular behavioral acts, whether it be capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, torture or whatever. There are certainly acts which are absolutely wrong (beating or burning a child, for example), but they are wrong because they always violate one or more of the absolute principles given to us in Scripture.
The Bible commands us absolutely to love God, do justice, and show compassion. Any act which is wrong is wrong because it violates one of these three imperatives. Torture, like killing, is almost always either unjust or uncompassionate, but there may be times, as there is with killing, when torture may be just and/or compassionate. In the same way that it may be both just and compassionate to kill a terrorist in order to save other peoples' lives, so, too, it may be both just and/or compassionate to torture him to save other peoples' lives. Of course, the terrorist himself might fail to see the compassion in it (Both justice and compassion constrain us to never inflict any more pain or suffering than what is necessary to elicit the life-saving information), but the would-be victims would certainly see it.
The existential burden of a thoughtful Christian life lies in trying to find the fulcrum around which justice and compassion balance. In the search for that pivot there are few easy answers.