Battlepanda: The Ticking Bomb Scenario


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Ticking Bomb Scenario

Jim Henley on the ticking bomb scenario beloved by torture apologists:
Let’s say you’ve caught a suspect and you’re sure that he’s a terrorist, and you’re sure there’s a nuclear bomb planted somewhere in Manhattan, and you’re sure that he knows where the nuclear device has been planted in Manhattan, and you’re sure that this particular terrorist has been trained to resist torture just long enough that you could never get the true location of the bomb out of him in time. But you’re also sure that this particular terrorist is a pervert! And he tells you that if you’ll let him watch you rape your own child in front of him, he’ll tell you exactly where the bomb is and how to disarm it. And you’re sure that he will, because your intelligence is that good in exactly that way.

Wow! What a fascinating hypothetical, huh? And really, no less unlikely than the ticking bomb scenario you’re more familiar with, when you consider just how precisely the foundation of that dilemma has to be laid. So how come we hear so much about the other one and nothing about mine?

The answer is simple: State agents don’t have any ambition to rape their own children.

In the preceding sentence is the clue to the real misdirection of the ticking bomb scenario as endorsed most recently by right-wing America’s (and my own) bete noire, Hillary Clinton. The ticking bomb scenario is presented as “What would YOU do?” but it’s not, in truth, got anything to do with you. The proper question is, “What should we prudently allow officials embedded in the security bureaucracy to do with impunity?”

You could construct a hundred hypotheticals involving utilitarian tradeoffs and terrorism before breakfast, none less (im)plausible than the first. You only hear about the one because only one serves the purpose of validating the State’s desire for more power.

And Senator Clinton, once again you disappoint me.