Tuesday, November 29, 2005


The Ticking Time Bomb Scenario

Since it's seemingly impossible nowadays to have any sort of discussion about torture without bringing up the "ticking time bomb" scenario, I'd like to defuse this once and for all.

The scenario itself is simple - if there's an immediately impending disaster, is torture acceptable? It's intended to throw an opponent of torture off-balance (ironically enough, "moral absolutists" such as Sean Hannity are the most likely to employ it in an attempt to inject relativity into this particular topic). As one who generally opposes the idea of torture on both moral and practical grounds, I still think there's an acceptable solution to this.

If we accept the fact that it's OK for both the government and civilians to employ deadly force in the face of an immediate imminent threat to life (the three legs of this threat being the ability and opportunity to do great harm, along with the display of clear intentions to do so), then I don't think it's a stretch to allow someone to use, shall we say, other physical means in order to stop such an event. The key here would be that there has to be an immediate threat - as in, right this fuckin' minute. The possibility that a bomb might be detonated three months later doesn't qualify, just as I can't use a vague personal threat as justification to go shoot someone in self-defense.

But, just as is the case with deadly force, there needs to be a clear review process put into place each time such force is used, with severe consequences for the misuse of such force. The person who orders the "physical coercion", as well as any of those involved with actually applying the torture, need to be held responsible for their actions. If, in hindsight, it is found they acted reasonably, then they should be acquitted. If the policy is abused, well, I'd favor a little taste of their own medicine, but that's taking things too far and probably isn't constitutional.

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