Torture seems to be back on the table, or at least in discussion, as our nation reflects on the War on Terror and the new potential threat posed by ISIS. And right on cue, in the Boston Globe, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz—who has been torture curious before—philosophizes on whether it may be permissible in order to save lives.
Dershowitz believes that torture is morally wrong, he assures us, but asserts that in a given case, “torture may be the only or best tactic for saving lives.” The author takes this assertion at face value and continues to parse what he calls “the conflict between the moral and the factual: Should torture, as a moral matter, be permitted in a case where, as a factual matter, it may save lives?”
Spoiler alert: Dershowitz says yes. He advocates for a “torture warrant” to be issued in dire circumstances.
But Dershowitz’s theoretical musings have no basis in reality. Professional interrogators tell us that the “ticking time bomb” scenario just doesn’t exist in the real world. It is misleading to use an improvable hypothetical to validate a practice that has shown to be counterproductive again and again in actuality.
What’s more, it’s naïve and impractical to believe that we can torture “just a little,” just when extreme circumstances necessitate it. Retired generals Charles Krulak and Joseph Hoar wrote in 2007,
“As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture—only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works—the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking time bomb. Our soldiers in Iraq confront real ‘ticking time bomb’ situations every day, in the form of improvised explosive devices, and any degree of ‘flexibility’ about torture at the top drops down the chain of command like a stone—the rare exception fast becoming the rule.”
We don’t have to be faced with a “terrible choice of evils.” We can choose not to torture – under any circumstances – and we will not only be taking the moral high ground, but also making America a safer place.