Sunday, November 06, 2005


The traditional justification for why we should be allowed to use torture is the "ticking bomb" scenario. If there was a time bomb, and someone you had in custody knew where it was, when it was set to go off, and how to defuse it, how would you get that information out of them? It is my conclusion that one doesn't. One lets the bomb go off. Why? In the kind of war we are fighting, the kind of war in which human intelligence is incomparably vital, one can only maintain the kind of intelligence that one needs by being trusted absolutely by the population. Allegiances in an insurgency shift hourly. Those who were your enemies can be your friends tomorrow, and those who were your friends can betray you. Thus a large portion of the population with have links to the insurgents, and if they hesitate for a moment to tell you something, for fear of the consequences should you discover those links, you've lost your intelligence advantage. By taking the casualties of a few bombs now, but renouncing torture, openly and often--even announcing that you had the person who planted the bomb in custody, but refused to torture him even at such a price--you will uncover far more bombs before they go off, and have far fewer people planting bombs.


Blogger Noumenon said...

Your analysis extends the scenario to a repeated game instead of a one-off; not sure that's kosher, although it's more realistic.

Alex Tabarrok's answer to the ticking time bomb question is to illegalize torture anyway. Who would hesitate to use it if the situation were that cut and dried, regardless of the law? But it would keep the government from using it on innocent taxi drivers and mere car thieves.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Octavo Dia said...

I doubt whether the approval to use torture would make it all the way up and all the way back down the chain of command in the timeframe that a ticking bomb creates. The application of torture, whether illegal or not, is a lower-level problem. By the time the president finds out that someone "needs" to be tortured, the bomb is either exploded or the torture is already done. I do agree with the idea that governments cannot be trusted to torture responsibly. That sounds weird: torture responsibly. Still, ban torture, despite its justification. In the long term such a practice is beneficial, and in the short term torture will be dirty Harry'd where needed--regardless of whether we ban in or not.

2:27 AM  
Blogger Noumenon said...

The President's role in the scheme would be to pardon the low-level guy who uncovered the time bomb by deciding this was the time breaking the law was worth it.

5:50 AM  

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