Independent Christian Voice

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Justifiable torture? The problem with the "ticking time bomb" scenario

Arthur Silber at Once Upon A Time has a mult-part analysis of the whole debate around torture, something that all rational people interested in this issue should take the time to read. In Part V, he examines an oft-employed, misleading hypothetical to justify torture in some instances — the "ticking time bomb scenario." He quotes columnist Charles Krauthammer's use of this hypothetical:
A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in one hour. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist. He knows where it is. He's not talking. Question: If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, are you permitted to do it?
Silber juxtaposes that hypothetical with Darius Rejali's treatment of the "ticking bomb" problem:
With regard to the "ticking time bomb" scenario, so beloved of torture's advocates [and which I discussed in Part I of this series, where I pointed out its fundamental errors], Rejali writes: "What if time is short, as with a 'ticking bomb'? Does torture offer a shortcut? Real torture -- not the stuff of television -- takes days, if not weeks. Even torturers know this. There are three things that limit torture's value in this context." Those "three things" are the medical limit, the resource limit, and the psychological limit.
Silber's examination of this issue in such detail is exceptional. I strongly recommend reading it.

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