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Torture, Terrorism and the State: a Refutation of the Ticking-Bomb Argument

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Much of the literature on torture in recent years takes the position of denouncing the barbarity of torture, while allowing for exceptions to this veto in extreme circumstances. The ticking-bomb argument, where a terrorist is tortured in order to extract information of a primed bomb located in a civilian area, is often invoked as one of those extreme circumstances where torture becomes justified. As the War on Terrorism intensifies, the ticking-bomb argument has become the dominant line of reasoning used by both academics and policy advisers to justify a legalized, state-sponsored program of torture.

This paper argues for the unconditional refutation of any attempt to justify torture, without exceptions. We argue against the consequentialist reasoning of the ticking-bomb argument not from a deontological position, but on consequentialist grounds. Empirical evidence suggests that the institutionalization of torture practices creates serious problems. Torture interrogation fails to fulfil its initial purpose as a low-cost life saver, while its long-term potential is the devastation of democratic institutions.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland 2: Project on Ethics and Art in Testimony, 10 Oxford Street, Irvine, CA 92612, USA

Publication date: 2006-08-01

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