The Neocons’ favorite justification for legalizing torture is the now infamous “we’ve captured a terrorist who won’t tell us where the bomb is hidden.” That rationalization is popular and persuasive to some probably because it contains an unstated false premise - that we actually have captured a genuine terrorist who has useful information. This "Jack Bauer Scenario" also presupposes guilt, a determination our founding fathers insisted should be determined in a more methodical process, notwithstanding the brilliance of "24" tv scriptwriters in eternally ferreting out all terrorists.
Given the Keystone Kops the Neocons tend to put in charge of things, the likelihood of them really catching a competent terrorist who has hidden a bomb somewhere rather than just setting it off immediately is probably less than you being eaten by a shark in Kansas. Moreover, both studies and anecdotal information from professional interrogators indicate that physical torture seldom produces reliable information. It is not that the torturee won’t talk, it’s that he or she will say absolutely anything to stop the pain or drowning, true or not. In addition, other techniques, including drugs, have proven more productive even in the short run when circumstances frighten those who say all our rights must be violated.
Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, let’s grant the Neocons their fantasy scenario, but change one aspect of it. Let’s suppose there is a genuine terrorist and he personally hid a bomb under the White House. Hmmm. On second thought, maybe we should say it’s hidden elsewhere since many wouldn’t mind it going off there unless it was big enough to take out the Smithsonian and National Museum of Art as well. No, let’s say instead the bomb is buried under an orphanage somewhere and we discover proof positive (as opposed to this Administration’s usual mere suspicions, assumptions and ideology). Let’s assume for once we got lucky and traced the unknown evildoer who buried it to a high rise residential building with a thousand people in it, 666 of which are innocent women and children and 332 of which are innocent men. We don’t know who among them is the bomber, but let’s say Jack Bauer has discovered the secret bomber has been residing on that particular street.
What do you do now Neocons? Torture everyone in the building? The Neocons insist it is okay to abandon the Constitution if it is just one foreigner. Is it okay to abandon it for a thousand people? Or, should we torture just the men? (Yeah right, noone under 21 ever was recruited to cause harm and no woman ever had a grievance against our society.) Torture just those who are of a darker skin tone or foreigners with an accent on the assumption that only they would bomb a building? (Oops, forgot about Timothy McVeigh, didn’t you?) Torture only the non-Christians? (I don’t think any of our abortion clinic bombers claimed they were Muslim.) Torture just those wearing turbans? (That’s going to irritate pretty badly the entire country of India and all its Hindus and turban wearing Siekhs, not to mention everyone of that religion living in this country.) Torture only those who have guns in their homes? (Wow, that would be a tough one for the Neocons who also tend to be almost pathological when it comes to defending the portion of the Constitution regarding freedom to have guns. Their willingness to abandon almost all other Bill of Rights Amendments is almost amusing considering that Neocons insist even one regulation or hinderance of the right to own armor piercing 50 caliber rifles capable of bringing down passenger liners puts us on a “slippery slope.” ) So, what about torturing only those who have a two days growth of beard and non-blond hair? In other words, Central Casting’s concept of villains?
Remember, this scenario leaves 999 maimed and scarred on their bodies and/or their minds trying to find the one terrorist hidden among them. That is an unproven conclusion, but okay, suppose we know the bomber is somewhere in a city of a 100,000 and we know the bomb is a nuclear one which might kill 100,001? Still a good idea? The cost/benefit ratio is still greater on the side of benefits by one. (This is sort of like the old barb about the guy who offers a woman a five hundred thousand dollars to sleep with him for a night. When she says yes, he asks if she would do it for five dollars. She haughtily replies, “What do you think I am?” To which he responds, “We now know what you are. We’re just haggling on the price.”)
Heck, let’s say the bomber is in Portland and the nuclear bomb is a hydrogen one shipped into the port of New York or LA. Now the saving ratio is perhaps ten to one. As to Portland, should we say . . . too bad? That’s the risk you take of living in a “war zone?” Collateral damage so to speak?
Neocons would probably gleefully wipeout liberal Portland given the chance although they might not be too energetic considering that only savings New York and LA rather than, say, Houston.
Ultimately, when backed against the wall by being confronted with all the fallacies of the Jack Bauer scenario, the Neocons stubbornly fall back to their usual assertion that if there is even a 1% chance that we can prevent a nuclear detonation, we must take it no matter what it costs. The way to combat such nonsense is to counter with something Scott Adams suggested in his blog as a possible way to negotiate a settlement with Iran to prevent them from getting the bomb. He suggested we offer Iran the testicles of Bush and Cheney in exchange for a permanent inspection right to insure no bombs are being made. IF THERE IS EVEN A 1% CHANCE THAT IT WOULD WORK, WE MUST TAKE IT!