Tortue and the ticking bomb

Abstract
We live in times when, as Conor Gearty has pointed out, ‘legal scholars in the US are being taken seriously when they float the idea of torture warrants as a reform to what they see as the unacceptably uncodified system of arbitrary torture that they believe currently prevails’. And he is right when he goes on to add that ‘This is like reacting to a series of police killings with proposals to reform the law on homicide so as to sanction officially approved pre-trial executions.' It is because the general public is taking these academics seriously that there is an urgent need to expose how spurious their ideologically driven arguments are. The “respectability” they confer on the argument that so-called ticking bombs justify torture, and that it had therefore better be regulated, needs to be countered. Otherwise there is a real danger that western politicians will succeed in persuading us to go along with them when they insist that another basic freedom – freedom from torture – is yet one more value we must abandon in the endless “war on terrorism”. It is a short road from legalising torture intended to gain information to accepting torture as a legitimate weapon and for all sorts of purposes. The “intellectual respectability” conferred by the academy is essential for that enterprise. Thus, since Alan Dershowitz’s carefully constructed proposal to introduce torture warrants is both the most prominent and the most sophisticated of today’s attempts to make torture respectable, it is his proposal we need to focus on. In the Introduction, I say something about both the intellectual and the political contexts of the so-called ticking bomb scenario that is the basis of these proposals. In chapter two I argue that the “ticking bomb” scenario remains in crucial respects a fantasy; and that the grounds it is said to offer for justifying interrogational torture so as to avoid a putative catastrophe are spurious. In chapter three I argue that, whatever you think of those arguments, the consequences of legalising interrogational torture, and thus institutionalising it, would be so disastrous as to outweigh any such catastrophes anyway. Finally, in chapter four, I draw together what the details of my argument imply about torture in general and interrogational torture in particular; and about why any even semi-decent society must abhor torture -– in all circumstances, always, everywhere
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ISBN(s) 9781405162012   9781405162029  
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Per Sandin & Misse Wester (2009). The Moral Black Hole. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 12 (3):291 - 301.
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