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December 16, 2014

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anon

Hmmm, isn't reasoning from one random comment in a radio interview to a claim the speaker is prescribing "a meaningful guide for judicial decision making" a great example of the ab uno, disce omnes fallacy?

The reason the Trolley Problem gained so much attention is because it presents moral ambiguities. You so vehemently object to even asking the "ticking time" question, but praise the Trolley Problem as a devise that "can be used to explore the underpinnings of various moral intuitions" ... e.g., the executive in times of severe national crisis and threat, e.g., precisely the factual context to which the casual remark was directed.

BUt, hey, if Salon wants an entire essay entitled "Scalia's Torture Debacle" based on this sort of reasoning, why not? Haters got to hate, one supposes.

And, btw, if you actually believe that numbers count, and that it is ridiculous to contemplate a threat to " 4 million lives and a puppy?" won't you please let us know the number that wouldn't provoke such a glib response: ten thousand, one thousand, one hundred? Ever wonder how important even one life can be? Can you think of any recent examples of the slaughter of innocents justified by the claim to be "saving lives"?

Naaaa. That never happens in the real world, right?

Amir

There is no good evidence that torture "works" (or more precisely, work better than non-torture interrogation techniques) and a lot of evidence that it does not. In this sense Scalia's hypo is inapposite.

Amir

There is no good evidence that torture "works" (or more precisely, work better than non-torture interrogation techniques) and a lot of evidence that it does not. In this sense Scalia's hypo is inapposite.

anon

The "case" from which the sort of shallow analysis in this post is based was an isolated comment in an interview.

The only legitimate question, with respect to that comment, is whether it is EVER permissible to use "extreme measures" to coerce the disclosure of information that might save millions of lives, not the efficacy of "torture."

David B

Steve, I don't think your analogy holds, because unlike in the runaway train hypo, the subject of the torture isn't necessarily innocent. What if we are persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that the "victim" is a terrorist, prepared to murder hundreds of innocents, who may have confederates soon to in fact kill hundreds. We're fine with locking that person in jail for life, even though it won't save anyone but his own potential victims, but not to waterboard him for thirty seconds to potentially save hundreds of lives? Why?

Steve L

That is a fair question, David B., which I addressed in the Salon piece(I only posted the first few paragraphs on this blog).

In case you didn't see the hyperlink above, here is the link to the full essay:

http://www.salon.com/2014/12/16/scalias_irksome_torture_claim_why_the_right_keeps_missing_the_point/

SL

anon

Steve

I read the "Salon piece."

I don't think you answered at all.

I would also love to hear your views about simply slaughtering the suspect, and everyone around the suspect, from afar, rather than subjecting the suspect to the "extreme measures" to which Scalia referred.

A deeper analysis would also consider the law on these topics, about which there is volumes. Of course, neither Scalia, nor you, make any legal points whatsoever.

Amir

Anon,

Scalia references "the situation where a person that you know for sure knows the location of a nuclear bomb that has been planted in Los Angeles and will kill millions of people… You think it’s clear that you cannot use extreme measures to get that information out of that person?"

It is quite obviously legitimate to point out that there is no evidence that "extreme measures" would be more effective at getting the information out of that person.

Steven Freedman

In a ticking time bomb situation, I'd think torture would be a nearly useless means for finding the bomb or uncovering the plot. In such a scenario, isn't it more likely the terrorist would provide misleading information? Not only would he or she stop the torture, the misinformation would make the plot more likely to succeed as the investigators would waste time on a false lead.

Similarly, since it's well established that people being tortured will say anything to stop the torture, the investigator/torturer would be foolish to rely on any information provided by the person being tortured. Doing so would waste precious time. After all there may be millions of lives at stake.

anon

So sayeth the security experts on the FL.

Again, efficacy is not part of the original thesis here. The original thesis was to attack Scalia based on a remark in an interview to the effect that "it’s [not] an easy question .. [whether] it’s clear that you cannot use extreme measures to get ... information out of that person."

All the comments have done so far is quibble around the edges. Is it never moral to "torture"? If so, then let's stop pretending that whether to torture is a question of efficacy.

If it would be moral to torture under some circumstances, e.g., proof of efficacy and the likelihood of saving lives, then I would say that those who are totally ignorant about such matters cannot be trusted to determine either question. But again, that is not the basis for the attack above.

The attack above seems to be a rather shallow screed that assumes without argument it is never moral to torture, that extreme measures are always torture, and that Scalia said that torture is just fine with him, by signaling his opinion that should a case come before him, he will base his entire judicial reasoning for so believing on television shows and on a scenario that has never and could never occur in real life. This is laughable stuff.

There is of course law on this question, about which no one so far has opined (other than the tired Wikipedia-like references to which those who follow these issues have become accustomed).

Steven Freedman

Could using torture in a ticking time bomb scenario be moral? Perhaps, but it sure shouldn't be legal. The slope is very slippery here. If torture is justified to prevent mass deaths, why not in the instance where it's one death? What about grave permanent injury? What about massive financial injury?

More worrisome, to whom do we give this authority too? Since time is of the essence and waiting for a cabinet secretary's or president's ok could cost millions of lives, wouldn't we need to extend this authority to the Jack Bauer figure, i.e., the first responder? And why should we expect highly trained, professional terrorist killer Jack Bauer to be the one making this decision? Jack may be off following a false lead generated by a tortured suspect. Which leaves local police departments who may be the ones most likely to find the ticking time bomb suspect. Should we train police officers on how to torture? Or do we need separate bureaus of torture? Do we need special torture warrants? Or is that too limiting in the instance of a ticking time bomb scenario? What if torturing the suspect is not enough? If it's moral and legal to torture the suspect (who may be innocent), is it moral to torture his wife or children? After all, there could be millions of lives at stake.

Is this the rabbit hole we want to go down?

If you don't think the slope is slippery, just remember that the CIA program quickly devolved into rectal feeding, falsely imprisoning and torturing a mentally disabled family member, torturing more than a dozen innocent suspects, and causing the death of at least one suspect.

Barry

David B: "Steve, I don't think your analogy holds, because unlike in the runaway train hypo, the subject of the torture isn't necessarily innocent. "

Yes, the people doing the torture will say that, as will the people supporting torture. WTF does that have to do with anything?


"What if we are persuaded beyond a reasonable doubt that the "victim" is a terrorist, prepared to murder hundreds of innocents, who may have confederates soon to in fact kill hundreds. We're fine with locking that person in jail for life, even though it won't save anyone but his own potential victims, but not to waterboard him for thirty seconds to potentially save hundreds of lives? Why?"

First, your hypothetical doesn't happen; at least the Bush/Cheney cabal couldn't come up with that.

Second, we have a history of what happens when the authorities get to claim 'we know beyond a reasonable doubt' and we take their word for it.
Those who propose such scenarios support torture, pure and simple. Unless, of course, you can show that you've asserted such scenarios for things which you oppose. Which you have not.

By the way, there is an answer to your scenario, which nobody has the b*lls or integrity to do:

You torture the guy, get the information, save millions of lives, go before the court, and present your evidence.

We live in a world where the police can pretty much gun down anybody (poor, black, hispanic) they want, and be rewarded for it. In such a case, you'd have less chance of prison than you'd have of getting killed driving to or from the courthouse.

Fritz Allhoff

For anyone interested, I might point to Fritz Allhoff, *Terrorism, Ticking Time-Bombs, and Torture* (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), that deals with a lot of these issues.

anon

wow, now I know the reason some say that a bunch of the comments are just coming from off the cuff assessments without any reasoning, study, research and knowledge base.

As for court, absolutely. That should be the real subject of the debate, unless one is prepared to say that the US cannot harshly interrogate persons with whom it is at war, ever, under any circumstances, and that commenters in random blogs are qualified to pontificate and judge what is too harsh under existing law, what existing law requires, what is should require, etc.

And, just for the record, for all the chest pounders, please, just answer, just a little bit: Can you think of any recent examples of the slaughter, yes slaughter, of innocents, justified by the government's claim to be "saving lives"? Can you say "who decided" who lived and who died?

I would love to hear the views of those so certain here about teh wrongfulness of Scalia's comment about a closely related subject: the propriety of simply slaughtering a suspect (with no certainty and sometimes based just on a profile), and slaughtering every innocent person around the suspect in cold blood, from afar, rather than at least attempting to capture and subjecting the suspect to the "extreme measures" to which Scalia referred.

Let's compare and contrast. Let the moral outrage ensue! (Silence ... as usual)

Really, this whole thread is just politics posing as a discussion of morality (very few have even mentioned existing and proposed law).

As said above, haters got to hate. Too bad it is so obvious and shallow. One would expect better, and more objectivity, from an academic community. Oh wait ... that's sort of a ridiculous expectation, right?

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Those not familiar with the existing philosophical, legal, and to some extent, social scientific literature on "torture," might want to browse through my bibliography on same: https://www.academia.edu/4844181/Torture_moral_legal_and_political_dimensions_a_basic_bibliography

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