Wednesday, December 19, 2007

But What If He's Got a Time-Bomb!

The ticking time-bomb scenario is just about the most pumped-out thought experiment ever. Alan Dershowitz, the famous Israeli lobbyist and defense attorney for O.J. Simpson, wrote the article in which he said that if he could get Americans to agree that in at least one case (the case of a ticking time-bomb on Manhattan island!) torturing somebody who knows the way to stop the ticking could save peoples' lives, and then torture would be justified. And then once it's justified, he said we should make it legal.

That was published in 2002, the same year Guantanamo began to be used for War on Terror prisoners. He published a follow-up article called "Tortured Reasoning". And though the ticking time-bomb scenario has never really occurred except in Hollywood studios, persuaded Americans instinctively think every enemy combatant has a ticking time-bomb somewhere up their sleeve and that torturing them with warrants is the proper, legal, American thing to do. Once we buy the ticking time-bomb, we buy Guantanamo, we buy Eastern Europe, and we buy all the ad-hoc torture situations that happen out-of-sight in the War on Terror. Torturing someone to potentially save someone else's life has become a noble, necessary (and naïve) moral imperative.

Yet another reason why I'm not a utilitarian. Dershowitz actually begins the second article by saying he's a "civil libertarian". What mischievous rhetorical devices that man has.

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