The Meme of the Ticking Time Bomb

Imagine if you will....

Three shopping centers near major U.S. cities have been hit by suicide bombers. Hundreds are dead, thousands injured. A fourth attack has been averted when the attackers were captured off the Florida coast and taken to Guantanamo Bay, where they are being questioned. U.S. intelligence believes that another larger attack is planned and could come at any time.

This scenario was given by a FOX News moderator at a Republican Presidential debate in May 2007 leading up to the question,

How aggressively would you interrogate those being held at Guantanamo Bay for information about where the next attack might be?

The ticking time bomb scenario has been the subject of not a few stupid movies (Face Off) and t.v. shows (24). In recent years it has become a way to justify the torture of prisoners, including those not involved in any sort of ticking time bomb scenario. The idea is by outlawing torture you remove the possibility of beating the location of a hidden bomb out of a terrorist just in time to save the day, like a man would.

It is a pretty simplistic and silly scenario. It is not surprising that a FOX News employee would bring it up. I imagine its brought up on their airwaves pretty often. It may surprise you, however, if a member of the Unites States Supreme Court would bring it up when talking about the Constitutionality of torture in the context of the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

During an interview with the BBC, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia said it would be "absurd" to say you can't smack a suspect around or stick things in their fingernails to find out the location of hidden bomb in Los Angeles.

Ugh. So, ok...Some terrorist plants a bomb somewhere in L.A. Somehow, he is caught by law enforcement, lets say the CIA, after planting the bomb but before it blows up, during its ticking time. The CIA has enough info to catch this guy but doesn't know where the bomb is. Seems like shoddy investigative work. Anyway, they get this guy in a back room somewhere. There is a ticking time bomb, remember, apparently the guy has set it to tick away for a long time. The CIA starts going to work on him, maybe they use a blow torch. Why would this terrorist ever tell them anything? Eventually, the bomb will stop ticking and blow up and he will have achieved his goal. Why not tell them faulty info to get them to stop torturing him until word comes down that the ticking time bomb has stopped ticking?

It is a patently dumb scenario that is only good for cheesy suspense. I expect it's use by talking heads and dirty politicians, but a Supreme Court Justice...

1 comment:

Bing Joules said...

It's not all Hollywood... When they are finished torturing them to find the location of the ticking time bomb, they then proceed to torture them a second time to find out which wire to cut - the red one or the blue one????