Saturday, July 29, 2006

Debunking The "Ticking Bomb" Argument For Torture

Alan Dershowitz uses the "ticking bomb" scenario to justify torture. Though Dershowitz makes other equally flimsy excuses to justify torture, the so-called "ticking bomb" scenario is the one that has the most emotional appeal. This is also the argument trotted out most by torture apologists.


The "ticking bomb" scenario goes something like this: if a terrorist has planted a bomb (say, nuclear) in the middle of a major American city (say, New York) and you have managed to capture him but he won't tell you where he planted the bomb, what do you do? No, this isn't a question from the movie "Speed", but it is the torture apologists' favorite question. Would you torture the terrorist in the hope that he will tell you where he planted the bomb? Most people, when confronted with this hypothetical scenario, will likely choose torture to extract the information that will save millions of lives. It sounds so simple.


There are plenty of arguments that can be made to debunk this notion. The moral and legal argument is that if you allow torture in one circumstance, then you are liable to slide down a slippery slope that is very dangerous for a law-abiding society. However, I want to make a rather basic argument that is often lost when this emotional scenario is discussed. My argument is rather simple: torture in this circumstance is guaranteed not to work.


I don't say that torture in the "ticking bomb" scenario may not work; I say that it will never work. The reason is simple. If you are positing a scenario where a terrorist has already decided to kill millions of people, why would he cough up information to spoil his plans? Does it really matter how much you torture him? Does he believe that if he gives up the information you, the torturer, will somehow forgive him for trying to kill millions of people? He has a much better incentive to lie. By lying he achieves a two-fer. He not only ensures that the "ticking bomb" will go off killing the millions that he intended (including quite likely himself and his interrogators), he also ensures that the torture will stop (at least temporarily) while the hapless torturer and his cohorts follow the false lead. It's that simple. He has every incentive to lie and no incentive to tell the truth.


While Alan Dershowitz busily tries to reshape his argument, his grand experiment in torture will have killed millions of people. One could then argue that Mr. Dershowitz, by advocating a path that was sure to fail (and thereby denying law enforcement the other more effective alternatives currently at their disposal), would be morally culpable for the deaths of millions. Perhaps, Dershowitz the Torture Apologist, should consider that before he writes another one of his torture tomes.


[Cross posted at Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying]

5 Comments:

Blogger The Heathlander said...

Oh yeh...I never thought of that. Good good, another argument to add to the 'List of Things To Say To A Torture Apologist' (after all the swear words, of course).

Cheers, Mash.

10:40 PM  
Blogger Dr. Strangelove said...

Heathlander, I thought Dershowitz needed a little more of a drubbing :)

By the way, 2am works.

10:42 PM  
Blogger The Heathlander said...

Great (about both things)

10:48 PM  
Blogger Patricia said...

Dear Sir,

I have worked as a Protection Delegate for the International Commeettee of the Red Cross (Mandated by the Geneva Conventions) for the last 10 years in almost every kind of war zone on earth. Thousands of prison visits. Let me tell you that although I am prohibited to release any kind of information related to my work by extremely severe contracts of confidentiality (that bind my whole family too and even after I had quit the job) which are conceived with the purpose of guaranteeing free access to our personal to the victims and authorities involved (in exchange for keeping our mouths shut) i am renouncing right away i can't stand it any longer, it has lost all sense of service for me (and don't give a shit about any difamation lawsuit they may intend against me. I just want to tell you that it's been more than half a century now that our direct experience on the field and with authorities as I sad, be it Military Generals ("State terrorism") or Guerrillas Commanders ("terrorists") it is ABSOLUTELY CLEAR-CUT FOR EACH ONE OF US THAT TORTURE IS PERFECTLY INEFFECTIVE. ZERO PRODUCTIVITY. A WASTE, A VICE, NOTHING MORE. WE KEEP ON BEING DAILY RUNNING TROOPS OF "HUMANITARIAN PROFESSIONALS" PRESENCIAL WITNESSING ALL KINDS OF UNSPEAKABLE TORTURE AND SUMMARY EXECUTIONS FOR WHICH WE ONLY ARE MANDATED BY THE GENEVA CONVENTIONS TO TRY TO ALLEVIATE THE CONSEQUENCES (?), PERSUADE TO STOP (?), REPORT (TO THE ABUSER AUTHORITY.. AND STAYING POLITE..absurd), AND FINALLY ARCHIVING THE FINDINGS IN DETAIL IN UNDISCLOSABLE PLACES.. 4 EVER.. ON AND ON.. YOU REGISTER 200 GUYS TO BE TRANSPORTED BY A US MILITARY TRUCK FROM ONE PLACE TO A DETERMINED DESTINATION. YOU LOOK AT EACH ONE IN THE EYES ASK NAME, AGE, OTHERS, AND BYE BYE.. CALL YOUR COLLEAGUE AT ARRIVAL POINT THE NEXT DAY, ASK HOW MANY GOT THERE, ALMOST ALWAYS NONE. NEW TASK: FIND THE BODIES ON THE WAY, RECOVER THEM, INFORM THE FAMILIES, AND REWRITE A NEW LIST WHERE YOU CROSS-CHECK DEAD OR MISSING. YOU'LL THEN WRITE A PROLIFIC DIPLOMATIC LETTER TO THE HIGHEST COMMANDERS IN THE US INFORMING ABOUT THE FACTS, STATING THEY ARE "WORRYING"... PLEASE EXCUSE-ME I LOST TRACK OF THE ONLY SIMPLE POINT I WANTED TO MAKE, BELIEVE ME I CAN TELL; I AM TOLD AND I SEE IT EVERY DAY: TORTURE IS I-N-E-F-E-C-T-I-V-E! POINT. THERE ARE ZERO INCENTIVES TO CONFESS AS YOUR ARTICLE CLEARLY EXPLAINS, WELL DONE!, AND ON TOP, AN AVERAGE OF 90% ARE PURELY INNOCENT SO CRIMINAL OR NOT, THEY ALL, ALL, INVENT THE "INTELLIGENCE" INFO YOU SO PROUDLY BELIEVE YOU GET. I AM A SWISS CITIZEN WHO IS VERY HAPPY TO SEE HOW AWARENESS IN THE US IS GROWING ABOUT THE USELESSNESS, NOT TO TALK ABOUT THE INSANITY, OF TORTURE. SO, THAT ONLY BIG POWERS LIKE YOURS STILL DONT GET IT, mANY OF THE SMALL COUNTRIES, EVEN ORDINARY POLICE STATIONS IN THE MOST "EVIL" SOCIETIES DON'T BOTHER PRACTICING IT ANY MORE. CONGRATS TO THE ARTICLE, KEEP GOING, YES U CAN. ONE IDEA MAY BE TO REQUEST YOUR GOVERNMENT, DEMOCRACY AT WORK, TO RELEASE THE PERIODICAL RED CROSS COMMETTEE REPORTS THEY GET. CLAIM TO MAKE THEM PUBLIC. YOU'LL GET ALL THE EVIDENCE. NO NEED FOR MORE UNCOUNTABLE INVESTIGATIONS THEY PRETEND TO SERIOUSLY PURSUE. CLAIM TO MAKE THEM PUBLIC, ACCOUNTABILITY. DEMOCRACY IS YOUR GREAT ADVANTAGE, NO MANY OTHERS ENJOY. ALL THE BEST!

12:47 PM  
Blogger De said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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12:31 AM  

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