I was reading through the archives of Chatological Humor, Gene Weingarten’s regular Q&A on the Washington Post site, and ran across a comment from 2009 (by someone identified only as “Hmph”) that was worth saving. Recall that in 2009 there was much news discussion of whether the US was taking prisoners to countries with lenient torture laws and submitting them to practices that would be illegal on US soil. This was when we all learned what waterboarding is. Many conservatives argued that torture (or, as they preferred, “harsh interrogation”) should be legal when there is a suspected terrorist plot. “Hmph,” reacting to this notion, opines:
I have to object to “hypotheticals” about ticking-time-bomb, massive-death, torture-will-definitely-work scenarios.
Though the situations are impossible, they’re not really hypothetical in that people want to use them to make torture legal.
It’s like posing the question, “If destroying the Mona Lisa was the only way to prevent a terrorist from eating 2,000 innocent American babies, would that be justified?”, and then pushing for legislation or executive orders on the propriety of destroying priceless works of art.
And besides the ridiculousness of the scenario, I’m just offended by the idea that folks want a law to cover their ass, just in case they might want to torture!
If there really -were- some crazy ticking time-bomb scenario, where someone is convinced the only way to avert tragedy is to torture someone, they can go ahead and break the law to torture. If they’re that certain it’s that important, they can have the courage of their convictions and face the consequences. If they can prove the circumstances were so extraordinary, they’re not actually going to get in much, if any, trouble. And if they were wrong, they should rightfully be punished for disregarding the rule of law, human rights, and tenets of a free, civilized society.
The first point, that ticking bomb scenarios don’t really exist, is one commonly made by those opposed to torture. The second point, that even if they did it wouldn’t be a reason not to legislate against torture, is novel and compelling. Well said, “Hmph.”