In a much-talked-about editorial titled “The Truth about Torture,” Charles Krauthammer delves into the torture debate with a lengthy analysis of the issues involved. We don’t come to the same conclusions, I think, although it’s possible he’s closer to my absolute anti-torture stance than he implies. But it’s a useful discussion. I have one question. Consider:
Let’s begin with a few analytic distinctions. For the purpose of torture and prisoner maltreatment, there are three kinds of war prisoners:
Third, there is the terrorist with information. Here the issue of torture gets complicated and the easy pieties don’t so easily apply. Let’s take the textbook case. Ethics 101: A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in one hour. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist. He knows where it is. He’s not talking.
Question: If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, are you permitted to do it?
That’s an absurd scenario that’s been readily debunked throughout the blogosphere in the last week, so I won’t go into it here. I’m more interested in Mr. Krauthammer’s assumptions (although he’s not alone in pushing this scenario with the same assumptions).
Specifically, how do we know there’s a nuclear bomb set to go off in one hour? I don’t ask that as a “gotcha” question; it’s not. I’m genuinely interested in the assumption because it could change the approach to the scenario. Isn’t there a possible inference in this scenario that indicates intelligence gathering might be useful? Or do we want to just continue with the assumption that we’re not good enough to prevent such terrorism from reaching the United States through time-tested methods, thus torture is the only option?
For more insight, read this.