May 29, 2007
A reader responds to the post on how fictional dramatic portrayals of torture have insinuated themselves into the current presidential race
. Not just eloquent but spot on:
In real life the problem is that you typically donâ€™t know what you donâ€™t know, so there is no such tension. [Indeed, if the Bush administration were a Wagnerian opera, â€œhow can we do meaningful review when you donâ€™t know what you donâ€™t know?â€ would probably be the leitmotiv.] If torture is permitted in the hypothetical â€œticking time bombâ€ scenario, then one starts to perceive every terrorism investigation as a ticking time bomb. Indeed, the entire â€œwar on terrorismâ€ can be framed as a giant ticking time bomb scenario â€¦ and in a sense thatâ€™s the only scale at which one can be readily know that there is a ticking time bomb. Thus, the more relevant question isnâ€™t whether torture should be used in the â€œticking time bombâ€ scenario that is usually hypothesized as a thought experiment, but whether it should be used as a routine matter in terrorism investigation.
I think this question must consider whether using torture as a routine matter is consistent with American ethical norms and whether torture has a proven record of effectiveness in interrogation. On both grounds, the answer seems to be â€˜no.â€™