I've been thinking a bit more about Ashcroft's comments (the ones I repeated a few days ago, plus others) and about the debates they start (including here, apparently, which was a pleasant surprise). I still don't think people are making the right arguments against current US policy. There are a lot of posts along the lines of "Torture is axiomatically wrong", which is all very well, but once you take that stance you'll find it hard to back up (always the problem with axioms); so you sort of take yourself out of the debate. There is the much more practical point that torture is immoral and of questionable benefit, both in the short and the long term. I don't think the latter is under much debate, other than the usual nut-cases convinced that terrorists will become less keen to attack the US once they find out their mates are getting knocked about.
Most of the arguing, then, is over whether or not torture can, in the short term, save lives, and whether or not that makes it OK. I'm going to entirely skip the latter, although there are some interesting things to be said on it. What I want to concentrate on is the idea that torture is a useful tool, specifically in the case of the "ticking bomb" situation the GOP seems convinced is just bound to go off sooner or later like, well, a ticking bomb.
The logic runs that if we catch a terrorist and if he knows where a bomb is planted and if we can't find it any other way and if standard interrogation techniques have failed and if we assume that torture will lead to accurate intel (as oppose to whatever lies this guy decides to come up with in order to win a reprieve, however brief), we'd better make damn sure there is a legal contingency for that. I guess they're terrified that " if we catch a terrorist and if he knows where a bomb is planted and if we can't find it any other way and if standard interrogation techniques have failed and if we assume that torture will lead to accurate intel" is terrifyingly plausible, but " if we catch a terrorist and if he knows where a bomb is planted and if we can't find it any other way and if standard interrogation techniques have failed and if we assume that torture will lead to accurate intel and if one of his captors is prepared to torture him without rules allowing him to do so" is fairly unlikely.
It suddenly occurred to me the other day that legally allowing torture in case the above situation comes up is equivalent to removing speed limits on roads in case someone needs to get their dying child to a hospital. Or making murder legal purely in case an abused wife stabs her husband in self-defense the next time he drunkenly lunges at her with a baseball bat. I think I'm pretty safe in saying that the vast majority of people understand that laws are frequently inflexible, and that the system relies on compensation for this from the police, and from the courts. We don't want them completely overruling what they want when they want, but there are reasons a policeman can book driver A for speeding, but let driver B off, or why a judge can give a jail sentence to one drug user and community service to another. Oftentimes we hear about the ways this system has gone wrong, or given the impression that is has gone wrong (Pete Doherty is certainly an example of one or the other), but in principle, there are very good reasons we call them "judges". 
So why make torture legal on the off-chance this ticking bomb scenario actually does arrive? Surely if everything clicks into place, and a nuclear bomb is discovered because Agent Brown beat on some terrorist until he blabbed, then should Brown be officially charged, the system will take the situation into account. The man's a hero, the saviour of millions of American lives. He'd be showered in medals. Serious repercussions are liable to be somewhat thin on the ground. So what exactly is the situation that permitting water-boarding prevents? More likely, it's the occasion when someone gets tortured and it turns out to have been fuck-all use. This, apparently, is supposed to be OK too . We're not talking about enabling success, we're talking about removing the repercussions of failure. Much as I pointed out in my last post, it's an attempt to shirk responsibility for what are potentially very serious mistakes, and pass it off as an attempt to save lives. And as cplcarrot said, people need to be willing to stand by this sort of stuff.
 There's a more general point to be made here. People really need to stop screaming and shouting every time a new law seems overly draconian. Take the furore over no longer allowing parents to give their children any alcohol in their own home. Is that the Nanny State flexing its muscles? Or just ensuring that there is no ambiguity over the law if the police choose to deal with parents who are clearly giving their children too much.
 Here's an interesting set of questions. If such an event occurs, and a terrorist is being tortured right up to the moment where the bomb goes off and a million people are vaporised, then there's no longer any reason to keep up the torture. Do we think it likely that Agent Brown will then immediately stop? Or is more likely that the guy the US Government are paying to inflict pain upon its enemies is going to continue out of frustration, or loss, or revenge? How would the system deal with that one?