Talk, you…individual!

We’ve all heard the question: Wouldn’t you be in favor of torture if the police had captured a guy who had the information needed to stop a gigantic bomb from going off and killing thousands of people? Yes, well, it sounds oddly like those improbable examination questions that are common in undergraduate philosophy of ethics classes: There is a burning building with an old lady, your wife, and a baby inside – you can only save one person. Apply the ideas of Utilitarianism to the situation and decide whom you would rescue. Not very realistic. In fact, the people in custody may or may not have useful information, but the value of their information is not likely to be as timely and critical as the old bromide implies. More likely, they are, at best, useful for background data, and even more likely is that they will tell their torturers all sorts of things that they believe they want to hear, like that Iraq is hiding huge caches of WMDs. The Israeli security forces, considered among the best, do not use torture because they know that a committed terrorist will die before telling anything, while the rest will say anything to stop the pain. So, it’s not a very productive method of inquiry.

Why in the world GWB feels that we must not have a law prohibiting torture is beyond me. I guess he feels that the US government must not have its hands tied in the event that the textbook example actually comes about. In such a case, I doubt that anyone would be against breaking the rules. The perpetrators would be excused if they could show that the facts were as they say, however, the actual consequence of permitting torture will be that the officials will begin to use torture as a regular tool, innocent people will be destroyed, and much bad information will be gathered that will have negative consequences.

The same people who think torture is okay are the ones who rail against “legal technicalities” in protection of individual rights in criminal cases. They fear letting off criminals because of such judicial niceties, but they are unconcerned by the many documented cases of innocents being jailed or executed due to judicial or police misconduct. In the real case, they come down against individual rights; in the case of the unreal hypothetical abstraction, they justify the abrogation of individual rights. It’s enough to make you a libertarian.

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