Thomas Torquemada and the Ticking Timebomb
The ‘ticking timebomb’ issue that gets brought up so much these days when discussing interrogation techniques is, to me, the late-term-rape-pregnancy-abortion hypothetical of the age. By focusing on this one special case, we’ve effectively lobotomized the debate on interrogation techniques. The circumstances stipulated – impending doom unless we get a piece of information from someone we have in custody – are so dire, so out of the ordinary and so remote from the vast majority of what intelligence gatherers actually do that any conclusion or stance that one could draw from thinking about them would, almost by definition, resist generalization to intelligence gathering as a whole. That’s why I scrupulously avoided this hypothetical in my last post on defining torture: it is a red herring, a sort of reductio ad absurdum that distracts one from what intelligence gathering is actually about.
Besides, professional interrogators, now with years of experience under their belts, would be unlikely to use techniques that would be so likely to give bad intel. Unless they were under political pressure to do so, right? Like, for example, doctors in certain states being forced by law to make unscientific caveats about the after-effects of abortions before performing such procedures. I mean, a professional dedicated to performing their job well wouldn’t do something so wreckless and counterproductive unless they were mandated to do so by the powers that be, right?