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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

Monday, September 25, 2006

Ticking bombs, torture, and Flame-Haired Angel

Most of you will not want to read this article. It's about torture. And it's more than a couple of pages, so it takes time. Have I sold you, yet?

"The Myth of the Ticking Time Bomb"

It provides an important answer -- in my opinion, an unassailable answer -- to one of the most important questions George Bush has placed before us all. Unfortunately, this bulletproof answer falls prey to the tragic flaw noted in this space just days ago.

Thinking about the article for a long time after I read it, one thing occurred to me that the author didn't address.

There is a seldom-mentioned corollary to the ticking bomb scenario. It is a corollary that makes the whole thing personal, not the least bit abstract. It is this: What if the terrorist had your lover or child? What if it was you with the electrodes and battery acid and ball-peen hammer? Would you personally choose to torture the bastard to save your lover?

This is a particularly appealing scenario for torture advocates to dangle before us. If all that stood between me and Flame-Haired Angel's murder was a little torture, wouldn't I go for it?

The question begs us to simply extrapolate from that personal scenario to the broader "ticking bomb" scenario in which, while it might not be us and our loved ones, it would certainly be someone's loved ones. Wouldn't we want the government/CIA/FBI/etc to make a decision similar to that which we would likely make?

It's an emotionally powerful argument. It's also illogical. The two scenarios are analogous, but they are not the same. They are completely unalike in two critical ways.

As an individual, I would be making an individual choice against which I would have to weigh the consequences of my actions. Am I willing to bear those consequences -- jail, for example -- in order to save my wife? I can make the personal choice to save FHA and throw myself on the mercy of the justice system. If they send me to prison, I will have made the choice knowing that's the trade off.

This is not the same as what the Bush administration is trying to ensconce in law. The Bush administration is trying to legalize torture. No trade off. Just do it.

Further, as an individual, I am making a personal choice. When a government engages in torture, however, the torturers don't have a personal stake, and they aren't making a choice. They are agents of the government following orders.

So, there's no choice. And there's no trade-off. The analogy breaks down dramatically.

All that's left is just legalized torture.

If your reaction is that you'd still definitely want agents of the government to be able to act -- that is, torture people -- on your behalf in a ticking bomb scenario, then I humbly offer you the article above.


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