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The Ticking Sound you hear is a Meaningless Strawman About to Explode


A magnificent post by Belle Waring at Crooked Timber mocking the “ticking time bomb” scenario constantly used by torture/Bush Administration apologists.

To state the obvious, 1)of course torture is morally justified even if illegal under a “ticking time bomb” scenario, and 2)it’s a bullshit argument. The problem is, the scenario requires an omniscience that renders it meaningless in any applied case. Under the ttb hypothetical, we 1)know that the bomb is about to destroy Manhattan (or LA or Des Moines or whatever), 2)know that the terrorist knows where it is and how to disarm it, 3)know that there’s enough time that the terrorist will plausibly give up the goods but not so much time that we could extract the information by other means, and 4)that the information we get by torture is reliable. Since many (and, in most cases, all 4) of these variables will have unknown answers in the real world, the hypothetical is useless, and can be easily used in order to justify torture that reaches far beyond the narrow stipulations. In other words, the ticking time bomb scenario is nothing but a parlor game. As part an argument about whether torture is justified, it’s a useless argument that does nothing but stack the deck against legal prohibitions against torture.

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