This Is All I Have To Say About The Torture Debate And The “Ticking Time Bomb” Scenario

Ken AshfordWar on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

Torture is illegal.

It should be illegal.

It should stay illegal.

Now, torture supporters are all over the place saying, "But what about the 'ticking time bomb' scenario?"  That refers to the hypothetical situation where we know that a dirty bomb is about to go off in the center of some major city, and we have some terrorist suspect in custody who can tell us where the bomb is.  Do we torture him in that situation?

Well, let me first say that anyone that thinks this is a likely possibility simply is watching too much Jack Bauer.  This is the stuff of movies and 24.  How likely is this to actually occur?  Less than 0.1%.  Nothing close to that has ever occured.  Ever.

But fine.  I'll play the game.  Do we torture in that situation?


If that's all we have is this suspect, and there is simply no other way to get information to possibly stop the bomb, then yes — torture away.

That said, torture is illegal.

It should be illegal.

It should stay illegal.

And if we torture in the "ticking time bomb" scenario, and it ends up saving thousands of lives, then the President pardons the torturers.  We all cheer.  Life goes on.

But torture stayes illegal.

The reality, of course, is that in such a silly "ticking time bomb" situation, our terrorist captive can simply LIE about the bomb's whereabouts, sending us on a wild goose chase.  "It's in Atlanta!" he sputters from the waterboard table.  We stop torturing him, only to find out he lied.  Tick, tick, boom.

The truth is that torture really isn't likely to provide valuable NEW information; at best, it may provide semi-valuable CONFIRMING information.  That's because the subject of torture will say ANYTHING to make it stop.  Which makes it not appropos for the "ticking time bomb" scenario in the first place.  (In fact, the United States used torture after we invaded Iraq in order to find an al Qaeda-Iraq link.  Again, not exactly a "ticking time bomb" situation).

But I stress again, the whole "ticking time bomb" thing is just too fanciful and unrealistic.  And we shouldn't backtrack on the moral high ground just because one can concoct an unlilkely situation in which torture might help.  After all, wasn't Saddam eeeevil because he tortured?  Wasn't that one of the justifications for invading Iraq?  I'm sure he had his reasons, too (or so he thought).  Where's the moral consistancy of those who lambasted Saddam for torture, but who think America can and should?