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Torture and the Ticking Time Bomb

James Kellerman

This article is an excellent rebuttal to Judge Posners argument that the value of the information sought justifies the means to get it.
“The value of the information sought depends in part on the menace to social welfare that has motivated the interrogation. If it is dire enough and the value of the information great enough, only a die-hard civil libertarian will deny the propriety of using a high degree of coercion to elicit the information. It might be the whereabouts of a kidnapping victim, the location of a ticking time bomb, the site of a biological weapon about to be deployed, the identity of key terrorist leaders, or the details of terrorist plots.”
This is essentially the Ticking Time Bomb argument and it is both hypothetical and in many aspects fallacious, it implies that there is no other means of getting the information and that torture will get you the information accurately in that scenario. It is a powerful argument that clouds our thinking and pushes us to accept legalised judicial torture. However it is a hypothetical argument and we should not be condoning torture in any case let alone using a hypothetical argument to open the legal floodgates to judicial torture. Introducing this kind of abhorrent legislation to deal with a hypothetical threat seems insane. The comments to the post in question are also very good reading indeed, some choice quotes:
Every regime that commits this crime does so in the name of salvation - Arial Dorfman
The supposed syllogism goes something like this: 1. TTB makes clear that all reasonable people can and should support torture is some limited circumstances -- to torture one to save millions (of helpless, unsuspecting Americans). 2. Ergo, our government, in order to confront TTB scenarios, must have a general authorization to torture "terrorists," and must have it in advance by law, so that when TTB arises our interrogators are not limited by a torture prohibition. This argument commits a category error. It universalizes a fanciful scenario that has never happened into a general rule.
Of course the final point has to be:
I almost forgot. After you finish following orders and torturing the suspect, it turns out he really didn’t know anything. That’s the way almost all of these scenarios end, isn’t it?
Read the full article and the excellent comments here: