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Assume the Ticking-Bomb Case Is True

It’s a rhetorical gambit predicated on a mostly false hypothetical that pretty much assumes its conclusion: *There’s a bomb set to go off but you don’t know where. You’ve got a detainee in custody who knows where it is. He won’t talk. You’re running out of time. When are you going to torture him, already? *

Matthew Yglesias notes that Charles Krauthammer brings out the so-called ticking-bomb canard again to argue for torture, but comes up with an example where the torture was ineffective in preventing its primary objective, the killing of a hostage. He writes, “it’s just really hard to see any examples of this ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario playing out in real life.”

Sure. But assume it’s true for a second. Ali Soufan, the former FBI agent who interrogated Abu Zubaydah without torturing him, specifically brought up the ticking-bomb case in congressional testimony on Wednesday to show that torturing someone will lead to the bomb going off.

A third major problem with [torture] is that it is slow. It takes place over a long period of time, for example preventing the detainee from sleeping for 180 hours as the [Justice Department] memos detail, or waterboarding 183 times in the case of KSM [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed]. When we have an alleged ‘ticking timebomb’ scenario and need to get information quickly, we can’t afford to wait that long.

You would think that mission success and experience would be relevant factors in assessing the efficacy of torture — that is, if you’re going to go down that road, rather than take a moral stance against torture — but then you couldn’t have a Washington Post column.

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