Friday, March 03, 2006

Torture: the "Ticking Bomb" argument

In his article on tortureon OpenDemocracy, Neal Ascherson mentions that people opposed to torture have to address the Ticking Bomb argument:
"What if the captive knows where the bomb is, probably in a crowded building, and the timer-clock is running? Isn't the pain of one human being justified by the saving of the innocent many?

The hypothetical nature of the argument is the key to the discussion. Torture is taking place worldwide, on a daily basis.

First, it is absolutely disproportionate to justify this immense existing wrong on the basis of one, single, abstract, theoretical thought experiment.

Second, even on its own terms, the experiment does not work. If one person's physical, juridical, and long term psychological health is successfully sacrificed for the lives of a number of innocent victims, the matter does not end there, for in committing that one act of torture, we would be sanctioning torture as an instrument of state control, and torture everywhere would continue to spiral upwards, which would involve "our side" in being tortured in unlimited numbers over time. Since the number of lives threatened by the original Ticking Bomb is limited, the cost to "our side" would be greater if torture is used in this thought experiment.

As Neal Acherson says, it is depressing that we should have to be discussing this problem, rather than working together to ensure its world wide ban. As ever, I advocate the Index of Human Rights as an effective instrument in working towards this goal.

No comments: