Friday, February 6, 2009

The Human Ticking Time Bomb

Frequently during some of the hearings, most recently for Leon Panetta and David Ogden, the question of the "human ticking time bomb" has come up in the context of the legitimacy of torture as a technique under those circumstances. And, as far I can tell, not one nominee presented with this hypothetical has attacked the logic behind it. Panetta, no doubt feeling pushed into a corner, admitted that he would ask the President for extraordinary authority if necessary.

Perhaps I should watch 24, but may I suggest the following answers to this question.

1. Based on our experience of Guantanamo detainees (to say nothing of our own criminal justice system) where more than 2/3 of the detainees have been repatriated because they didn't represent a danger to the U.S., this argument assumes that the "good guys" really have caught a "bad guy".

2. If the guy is indeed a "ticking time bomb", all he has to do is hold out under the torture until it's too late for his interrogators to do anything, or give them a story that will keep them occupied ("yea, I put the bomb in location X" - when it's really in location Y.)

3. What constitutes a situation of this gravity? This is a slippery slope argument. The possible injury or death of 1 person, 100 people, 1000 people? Does it matter if the threat appears to be a couple men with machine guns, a nuclear bomb, or anthrax?

4, We didn't torture during WWII, after we'd been attacked, when we were suffering enormous losses in the Pacific, at Normandy, etc. Is it really possible that the nation is in so much greater danger today than it was then? Then it was during the Revolutionary War? Do we today approve of what happened at Andersonville?

I'm sure others could come up with more objections to this hypothetical case. And it is well past time that we stopped letting this straw man be thrown at anybody who opposes torture without tearing it down.

No comments: