Monday, 15 December 2008

Torturous Logic: Redux

This piece by Jim Henley is worth reading in its entirety, but for those short of time I shall extract a few choice morsels, since it links back to my banging on about torture a few months ago.

First, why the "ticking bomb" hypothetical is somewhat flawed:

Let’s say you’ve caught a suspect and you’re sure he’s a terrorist, and you’re sure there’s a nuclear bomb somewhere in Manhattan, and you’re sure he knows where it is, and you’re sure 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 this particular terrorist is a pervert! And he tells you that if you’ll 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! Fascinating hypothetical, huh?

Second, why anyone who believes they can torture someone to save millions of lives but doesn't because it's against the rules is a dick:
If you could stop a bomb from killing 1 million Manhattanites at the cost of your own life, would you do it? What if it would mean imprisonment for the rest of your life? Could you live with yourself if you let all those people die for your own comfort? If you couldn’t, and you somehow just had to torture this bad guy to stop the bomb, then you ought to do it anyway and face your punishment. Right? Leave possible pardons and runaway juries aside. We are hard men for hard times, and we want hard make-believe conundrums.
And why torture-supporters only ever come at this from one direction:
Here’s another poser: Suppose you’re an innocent suspect whom your captors are convinced is a terrorist. They don’t believe your protestations, so they decide to torture you into a confession. The more you protest your innocence, the more frustrated they get that you won’t “crack.” What do you say to get them to stop? How do you get them not to decide they need to hurt you even more?

That puzzle has two features that make it unpopular with torture advocates. It asks you to sympathize with the victim rather than the perpetrator. And for too many people, it isn’t a hypothetical at all.

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