Most people in US, Britain, France, and S. Korea think torturing terrorists is OK.

Everyone knows the scenario from TV. There’s a ticking bomb, thousands will die, and our hero has to decide whether to torture the terrorist prisoner in order to find out where the bomb is. This is the scenario that advocates of state-sanctioned torture invariably bring up.

Hopefully most people also realize that the chances of that scenario actually playing out are vanishingly small. The idea that we’ll catch a guy who actually knows where the bomb is mere hours before it goes off makes for great TV, but it’s pretty farfetched.

The scholarship that I’ve read says that under real-life conditions, torture generally doesn’t work. You don’t get reliable intelligence from it.

I’m willing to believe, however, that maybe, just maybe, in that rare ticking-bomb situation, torture might be the only thing left to try. Fine. But that doesn’t mean it should be legal.

The best take on this subject I’ve seen goes like this: torture may conceivably be justified on rare occasions. But in order to ensure that is is only ever used as a tool of desperate last resort, it should remain illegal. Anyone who chooses to use it must know that they stand to lose their job and their freedom. They have to believe that the information they hope to get is worth ending their own career and going to jail over. That’s the only way to keep it from becoming widespread.

Hat tip: humandays

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  1. I agree…

    Torture must be illegal. It must be discouraged.. if it is done, it must be in only the most extreme circumstances under the conditions you describe…

    otherwise, it becomes too easy and it leads to unnecessary suffering and long-term problems…

    it might be better if we had at least some programs on tv–like say, a new season of 24, where people torture other people, get information, and it turns out to be horribly wrong and people die from it..

    instead of torture always being the necessary solution..

  2. Sad

    Gotta love our media.
    MSNBC…it’s almost journalism

    What exactly were these people asked in the poll?
    Was it;
    “Do you think a government agency should be allowed to inflict great suffering upon anyone they like based on the suspicion that the individual may have done something that someone within that government agency doesn’t like?”

    Or was it;
    “A group of TERRORISTS broke into your home, raped and murdered your family and killed your dog. Is torture justified to get one suspect to finger the accomplices?”

    Sure, lots of people think the guilty should be punished.
    Rewind and show me the scene where the suspect committed the crime.

    …then again, I can think of a few deserving individuals.
    Most of them prance around Washington being self-important.

  3. How do you feel about the U.S. officer who put a gun to an Iraqi’s head, and fired at the wall, re-pointed it and told him to essentially spill the beans. He did! And they prevented an attack on U.S. troops in Iraq.

    In fact, much of what I’ve read says that torture works quite well when done properly. Albeit, I am against torture that causes permanent harm. But I am not opposed in certain circumstances the used of psychological breakdown techniques, etc. So long as strong probable cause exists.

    That does not mean “torturing because someone has a name” but hell, if they got Terry Nichols with some detanator caps and had strong suspicians he was involved in a terrorist act. I have no problem with him being tortured somewhat in order for him to reveal who his accomplices are.


    1. Good for the officer. That’s a borderline case, since he wasn’t actually hurting the guy. If he’d gone any further, I’d say give the guy a medal and then court-martial him.

      1. I agree, had he shot the guy, or such…he’d have been in the wrong. But I don’t think “scare tactics” is a bad thing.

        As it is, I think the officer did have to stand thru a courts-martial and I don’t recall if it was decided in or against his favor.

        On the flip side, the crap that went on in Abu Ghraib was flat out wrong. And I believe those officers and enlisted should be court-martialed and serve much time.

        In fact, I wanted them tried for treason as I believe that incident greatly undermined the safety of United States citizens. I didn’t want them hanged or anything but I wanted severe penalties.

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