For those members of Opus Dei who aren’t brave enough to tie
the piece of barbed wire to their thighs can I suggest the Moral Maze
as a suitable alternative to corporal mortification ?
This week the issue was torture. And it wasn’t long before the Saintly Mel P charged into the “ticking time bomb" hypothesis.
It’s comes direct from a 24 hour script. Jack-Ends Justifies the Means- Bauer has just captured the terrorist who has planted a nuke in New York-somewhere- the clock is ticking down. When it explodes it would wipe out tens of thousands. Would you use torture to extract the information to stop the massacre?
No such scenario has existed in the world outside Jack Bauer’s. But m/s Phillips was let off too easily.
When the ticking time-bomb challenge is offered to you, just ask exactly what torture is intended. It’s no good chucking out torture without defining the word. To what lengths would the torturer be prepared to go to extract the information? How about amputating the right leg without any anaesthetic, and then pouring a bottle of nitric acid into the stump? Then do the same with the left leg? Imagine your captive suffers from congenital analgesia, a rare condition that leaves him unable to feel pain. Why not wheel in his wife and kids threaten, then perform, the same surgery on each in turn? What about gathering his entire village together- remember the bomb would kill thousands of innocent people-and get the knives ready for them all? In order to save the lives there must be no limit to the level of cruelty you are prepared to reach, providing your intention is to save more lives than you will destroy;more pain will be prevented than you inflict.
Both the hypothesis and the counter hypothesis are loopy. The ticking time bomb does not exist outside fiction. Using torture does not end up in saving tens of thousands of innocent lives. It ends up with the squalid business conducted in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. And with the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice flitting around European capitals, employing, according to the Washington Post via LA Times ,"the same legalistic jujitsu and morally obtuse double talk that led the Bush Administration into a swamp of human rights abuses in the first place".