Friday, May 15, 2009

The Ticking Time Bomb

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, who is also a psychiatrist, justifies torture by saying that the ticking time bomb scenario (as in Jack Bauer and 24) is real, gets results, and he uses an example from a case in Israel to bolster his claim.

On Oct. 9, 1994, Israeli Cpl. Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The Israelis captured the driver of the car. He was interrogated with methods so brutal that they violated Israel’s existing 1987 interrogation guidelines, which themselves were revoked in 1999 by the Israeli Supreme Court as unconscionably harsh. The Israeli prime minister who ordered this enhanced interrogation (as we now say) explained without apology: “If we’d been so careful to follow the [1987] Landau Commission [guidelines], we would never have found out where Waxman was being held.”

Who was that prime minister? Yitzhak Rabin, Nobel Peace laureate. The fact that Waxman died in the rescue raid compounds the tragedy but changes nothing of Rabin’s moral calculus.

Except his example isn’t exactly a ticking time bomb, and the hostage they were trying to rescue ended up dead. Oops.

I’m sure that a lot of torture freaks can come up with other time bomb examples. However, there’s one small factor they’re leaving out: in none of the justifications for using torture under this scenario have they ever cited a case in the current war situations, either in the 9/11 investigations, the war in Iraq, or the war in Afghanistan, where there has existed such a scenario. As far as anyone can tell, they’re all talking theoretically and coming up with extreme situations to make their case: “Terrorists have captured your wife and children and have strapped them to a speeding bus that will blow up if it drops below 50 mph unless you reveal the ingredients to Col. Sanders’ secret recipe. You have twenty minutes to get the location of the bus from a captured chicken dinner delivery boy. What then?” And then they use their situational morality to justify it: we were desperate! But has anyone stepped forward to cite a real case that provided actionable evidence that actually prevented something from happening?

Oh, but it might, the defenders of torture say, so therefore we shouldn’t tie our hands — so to speak — and rule it out. Yeah, and we might get struck by an asteroid, too, or get attacked by the Borg, or by the monster that lives under my bed. So far all we know is that the Bush administration administered torture to try to get the captives to confess to a non-existent link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda, and that’s just execrable.

It sounds to me that Dr. Krauthammer is just a little too enthusiastic about torture, if you know what I mean. Hey, whatever gets you through the night; some people are into that kind of kink. But I’d really rather not have it be the policy of the United States. Save it for your fetish parties.