Justice Scalia of the US Supreme Court recently echoed Alan Dershowitz's 'ticking time bomb' idea on torture. His words are below:
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said that aggressive interrogation could be appropriate to learn where a bomb was hidden shortly before it was set to explode or to discover the plans or whereabouts of a terrorist group.
"It seems to me you have to say, as unlikely as that is, it would be absurd to say you couldn't, I don't know, stick something under the fingernail, smack him in the face. It would be absurd to say you couldn't do that," Scalia told British Broadcasting Radio Corp.
Scalia said that determining when physical coercion could come into play was a difficult question. "How close does the threat have to be? And how severe can the infliction of pain be? I don't think these are easy questions at all, in either direction," he told the BBC's "Law in Action" program.
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I have had this discussion with many law colleagues of mine. I asked them the following...
Assume, for the sake of argument, that torture works. Let us just assume this - because in fact it has been proven to work in certain instances. If there is a ticking time bomb that could kill thousands of people, would you be willing to torture someone to find/diffuse the bomb? What if your sister, your mother, your niece, the love of your life...is under imminent threat to be raped/maimed/beheaded? Would you advocate a form of torture in order to save them?
My friend said no. He said that - literally even if a million people were to die - he still would not torture anyone. That is what he told me. I think that is not only absurd, it is unrighteous. Then, when pressed, he said that was because he really did not believe torture worked. But with his back against the wall, he said he would torture someone to save his family, to save humanity, BUT, he thinks that he should be punished afterwards for doing so.
Why is it righteous to let a million people die, just so...what? For what? For a 'principle'? What sort of principle? Why is it inherently evil to torture, for any reason whatsoever, even to save a life?
I will put it this way. We believe murder is wrong. But killing in self defense is not wrong. So why is "self defensive" torture - not for revenge, but rather to glean information to save lives, inherently wrong? And what is torture, exactly? Is waterboarding torture? You can recover from waterboarding. Wouldn't REAL torture mean harming someone to the point that they are harmed for life? (such as, to be graphic, hacking off limbs) Why is it so inherently true that waterboarding is torture?
I believe we have a duty to treat prisoners humanely. But why do we have a duty to treat prisoners who have information vital to saving lives SO HUMANELY, that it puts American lives at risk? Why? Under what theory, exactly?
As an aside, I wrote of this subject on Culture for All a while back, and I still agree with what I wrote back then.
[ UPDATE FOR CLARIFICATION ]
I just want to say that I do not think REAL torture is ever justified, but the CURRENT definition of torture DOES find justifications, in my opinion. (under the 'ticking time bomb aegis) I view REAL torture as inflicting permanent injury to a person. (the hacking off limbs scenario) I am simply not convinced that it EVER is necessary - from a security perspective, or getting information perspective - to engage in such barbaric tactics to save lives. And even if it were...where does the slippery slope end of the 'ends justifying the means'?