The Defense of Necessity and Powers of the Government

Criminal Law and Philosophy 3 (2):133-145 (2008)
Abstract
If one of the lessons of the ubiquitous and highly problematic ticking bomb scenario is that torture may be justified under certain narrowly specified situations, why would we not want it made available as a weapon in the government’s anti-terrorist activities? This is not a new question. It has been hotly debated, and a number of arguments have been made against the idea of formulating the torture policy on the basis of the ticking-bomb hypothetical. The question that this Essay addresses is related but narrower: if one starts from the proposition that the ticking bomb scenario demonstrates that a government official facing prosecution for torture may have available the necessity defense, what implications, if any, should the government be able to draw from the existence of the defense as it formulates its torture policy? This Essay discusses, and rejects, one common answer to this question—that the nature of the necessity defense is such that it can generate no forward-looking prescriptions. This Essay then advances a new argument on the basis of the nature and function of the necessity defense as not only spelling out morally permissible instances of harm infliction but also effecting a division of power between the state and citizens.
Keywords Torture  Necessity  Defenses
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