but… but… what if…?

That ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario? Total bullshit. There’s absolute no evidence that such a scenario has ever taken place. No evidence at all. Yet it keeps coming up in almost every discussion about torture.

“But what if we knew with absolute and perfect certainty that this guy has detailed knowledge of a bomb that’s going to detonate, and we knew with absolute and perfect certainty that it would detonate in a couple of hours, and we knew with absolute and perfect certainty that hundreds or thousands of innocent people would die — and what if this guy totally refused to talk. Would you still say torture was wrong in that situation?”

Well, yeah. It would still be wrong. The exigency of the situation doesn’t magically turn a wrong thing into a right thing.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, coward.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, coward.

“But what if we knew with absolute and perfect certainty that the victims included your family or friends? What if some of those victims were people you loved? Would you still say torture was wrong?”

Yeah, it’s still wrong. The identities of the potential victims aren’t materially relevant to whether or not it’s wrong to torture people. If it’s not okay to torture somebody to save a stranger, why would it be okay to torture somebody to save a person you know? Besides, there’s no way to be certain the torture would elicit reliable intelligence.

Former Vice President Richard Cheney, coward.

Former Vice President Richard Cheney, coward.

“But what if we knew with absolute and perfect certainty that torture did work, and that by using it we’d be able to save thousands of lives. Would you still be opposed to torture?”

Yeah. Torture would still be wrong. It’s not a question of effectiveness. It’s a question of national morality. It’s a question of who we are as a nation.

“So let me get this straight. You’re saying that if we knew with absolute and perfect certainty that torture worked, and we knew with absolute and perfect certainty that using torture would provide information that would save thousands of lives — if we knew all that, are you saying you wouldn’t use torture against one person to save the lives of thousands?”

No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying first and foremost that torture is inherently wrong and should be punishable as a crime. I’m saying torture doesn’t really work, that it isn’t an effective way to get information. But if I knew with absolute and perfect certainty that I could save a thousand lives by torturing one person, I’d do it. I’d torture the hell out of him. And I’d expect to go to prison for doing it. I’d be okay with serving a long prison sentence — or even a life sentence, or possibly a death sentence — in exchange for saving thousands of innocent lives.

Former President of the United States George W. Bush, coward.

Former President of the United States George W. Bush, coward.

What these jackasses in the CIA and in the Bush administration want is the power to torture suspects without any consequence. Fuck that, and fuck them. If they believe so strongly that torture is necessary, then let them pay the price for doing it. We see soldiers and police officers and firefighters routinely risk their lives to save people. We see ordinary folks all over the world risking injury or possible death by protesting against policies they believe are wrong. They know the risks and they’re willing to suffer the consequences of their actions.

If the CIA and members of the Bush administration really believed torture worked, if they really thought it was effective, if they truly thought it saved lives, then they should also be willing to accept the consequences. I don’t care if their intentions were good. If they’re not willing to own up to what they did and pay the price, then they’re just fucking cowards.

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8 thoughts on “but… but… what if…?

    • Yeah, they are. They’ll get away with it, of course — but they’re still war criminals. Having an attorney write a legal memo that redefines torture as ‘enhanced interrogation’ doesn’t stop it from actually being torture. President Nixon had it all wrong; when the president does it, it’s still illegal. The difference is that when the president does it, it means he’ll avoid prosecution for the illegal act.

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  1. “if we knew with absolute and perfect certainty that torture worked, and we knew with absolute and perfect certainty that using torture would provide information that would save thousands of lives”

    So that is the standard? We can torture if it will save thousands of lives. And yet, although we never had the scenario of the ticking bomb, we still tortured. Presumably because someone who was tortured might tell us about a time-bomb.

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    • I’m afraid you may not have read the blog post carefully. I think I was pretty clear that there’s no justification for torture. So no, that’s not the standard.

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    • That’s two strikes against the U.S. First, we tortured people. Second, we’ve failed to hold the torturers and the torture enablers responsible for the torture.

      Okay, three strikes. The U.S. has lost most of the moral high ground to complain about brutal treatment of captive U.S. citizens. We’re still able to complain about public beheadings…but I’ve got a shiny new quarter says there are people out there arguing that the U.S. should consider beheading if there’s a chance it’ll make us safer.

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