Sunday, February 10, 2008

Ticking Time Bomb Scenarios

Fascinating article:

Here’s another thought-experiment: Attorney General Mukasey admits that he personally would consider waterboarding torture, but can’t say whether waterboarding is legally torture because if the bad guys know it’s illegal then their awful plots are safe from being revealed by waterboarding. Therefore, the only way to make sure terrorists think they will be waterboarded is to keep secret whether it’s legal or illegal.

Presumably the AG knows whether waterboarding is legally torture or not; we also understand that the success of his mission (indeed, his very job) depends on not telling the truth. We decide the best way to find out if torture is legal is to waterboard him.

And so, wet and sputtering, (remember, it’s only a thought-experiment) he finally says “Yes it’s legal” or “No, it’s not legal.”

Now what? We still have to decide whether he told the truth. If he says it’s legal do we know that it is, or only that he said that to stop the torture? If he says it’s illegal - same business. Better waterboard him again … and again … until we get the answer we want? or until he drowns?

In fiction and fantasy, what the victim says under torture is a ‘truth’ that justifies the rest of the story. In the real world, real outcomes suggest that what people say under torture is almost never the truth.

While we're at it, here's a compare and contrast from the same article of the three remaining Prez front-runners:

McCain: “Should [an interrogator use torture] and thereby save an American city or prevent another 9/11, authorities and the public would surely take this into account when judging his actions and recognize the extremely dire situation he confronted.”

Hillary Clinton: “Those are very rare, but if they occur, there has to be some lawful authority for pursuing it ….[If] we have sufficient basis to believe that there is something imminent, yeah, but then we’ve got to have a check and balance on that.”

Obama :”The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security …torture is not a part of the answer - it is a fundamental part of the problem …. Torture is how you create enemies, not how you defeat them. Torture is how you get bad information, not good intelligence … When I am president America will …[stand] up to these deplorable tactics. When I am president we won’t work in secret to avoid honoring our laws and Constitution, we will be straight with the American people and true to our values.”

Now if Obama would actually live up to those words once in office remains to be seen. He seems to be talking the talk with regard to prohibiting torture, which certainly distinguishes him from Clinton II (the sequel) and McCain.

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