Sunday, February 26, 2006

Torture and the Ticking Bomb (slightly updated}

Reading Jane Mayer's New Yorker piece on Albert J. Mora's courageous and futile efforts while general counsel of the Navy to end the torture of "enemy combatants," I paused, as I always do, on the ultimate Bushy argument--other than the one that says, "I'm President, and I can do what I want. Try to stop me." Smirk. Smirk.--the hypothetical case: What if you have a prisoner who has knowledge of where a ticking nuclear device is located and you can only extract that information through torture? This time I realized that I pause because I can't understand why anyone would treat that question seriously. If you know enough to know that this prisoner knows and to know that he will reveal the truth under torture--rather than lie or not break or die, which are the chief results of brutality--then you already know enough to figure out for yourself where the bomb is--and more quickly than you would sorting through the initial indirections of the hardened "terrior" you know is going to break. But then the Bushies who are asking this hypothetical probably couldn't figure it out, the same way they couldn't figure out the airliner attacks on 9/11--they had cell phone numbers and first names, after all, but we didn't have their last names--nor could they make heads or tails of everything else they had.

It must be emphasized that study after study has shown that torture doesn't work--the torturer gets what the tortured prisoner thinks he wants to hear or outright lies--indeed, I doubt the Bushies can cite even one useful tidbit they have gleaned for all of the prisoners they have abused.

Morally, there is no justification for torture--zed, zero, zilch. The greater good is dishonored each time pain or trauma is inflicted in the name of righteousness. The torture of one person is the torture of all people. More practically, it declares that virtually any bozo is free to torture at will. That's not the kind of society any sane person wants to live in.

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