The ticking time bomb


Andrew Sullivan pauses to consider a recent column in the Washington Post addressing the torture question:

Cohen is right that this should not be a partisan matter, as Cheney has so shrewdly made it, turning the Republicans into the party of torture, and prepping to blame Obama for the next terror attack, which is inevitable. But he is wrong that torture is complicated. It isn’t. It was never complicated before Bush and Cheney instituted it. It was once an exceptional, once-in-a-lifetime, ticking bomb extra-legal necessity. Now it is legitimate according to Charles Krauthammer, the chief intellectual architect of the torture regime, if it saves merely one life.

I don’t take issue with Sullivan, per se, but thought it important to remind that there is no ticking bomb scenario. Or, as James Oliphant, of the Chicago Tribune blogged in May, 2008, of a House Judiciary hearing:

After the hearing, Conyers noted that no witness was able to describe a “ticking time bomb” scenario which would make extreme interrogation necessary.

Radio silence was the response when today’s witnesses were asked to identify a single example of a true ‘ticking bomb’ scenario ever occurring, even though such scenarios are often invoked to justify torture,” Conyers said. “These scholars, who have studied this issue extensively and have intimate knowledge of the legal authority the administration sought, could not identify a single example. I hope that the administration officials who have agreed to testify will shed some light on this and many other questions raised in today’s hearing.”

(It is worth noting that in the browser tab and title, the article is called “Torture’s Ugly Dialogue”, but the headline assigned the story is “Torture’s Unanswerable Questions”. Not sure what the difference actually means, but it sticks out pretty obviously.)

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