Friday, May 1, 2009

Krauthammer: Torture Is Impermissible Except Always

This is really a masterpiece of partisan hackery from Charles Krauthammer. Weighing in on the torture debate (how sad is it that there is even a debate about whether the United States should torture) with his trademark sanctimonious liberal-who-has-been-mugged-by reality "toughness", Krauthammer informs us that "torture is an impermissible evil. Except under two circumstances." And what are these exceptions? According to Krauthammer, "the first is the ticking time bomb." Ah, the ticking time bomb. Never mind that this situation has never actually happened outside of 24. Indeed, consider all of the facts an interrogator would need to know to justify torture in this situation: he would need to know that an attack is imminent, he would need to know enough about the plot to capture the suspect without knowing where or when the attack was, and he would need to know that the suspect knew enough to stop the attack. This is the epistemiological aspect of the ticking time bomb scenario. It is extremely unlikely that such a situation would ever occur. Much more plausibly, an interrogator would justify chatter about impending attacks - there is always chatter - to go on a fishing expedition to see what a suspect knows. After all, there might be a ticking bomb! It is a very slippery slope from the ticking time bomb to allowing torture in any case.

What about Krauthammer's exception? Again, from Krauthammer's column:

The second exception to the no-torture rule is the extraction of information from a high-value enemy in possession of high-value information likely to save lives. This case lacks the black-and-white clarity of the ticking time bomb scenario. We know less about the length of the fuse or the nature of the next attack. But we do know the danger is great. (One of the "torture memos" noted that the CIA had warned that terrorist "chatter" had reached pre-9/11 levels.) We know we must act but have no idea where or how -- and we can't know that until we have information. Catch-22.

This is not an exception; this is a license to torture any suspect at any time. In fact, this is an exact description of the slippery slope entailed in allowing torture under the ticking time bomb scenario. So, per Krauthammer, torture is an "impermissible evil" except whenever we decide to do it. Sadly, this is about on par with the legal "reasoning" in the Bybee and Yoo torture memos. If this is the best defense torture apologists can marshal, they should move to countries that do not have extradition.

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