The Ticking Time Bomb

A reader writes:

What I've never been able to understand about the torture debate is why people think that the highly specific 'ticking time bomb' exception somehow invalidates the drafting of a law prohibiting torture.

Imagine, in a Rawls kind of way, that you were writing the laws of our society from scratch. When you were devising speed limits, imagine if someone said, "Wait! Someone, under certain specific circumstances, might need to speed home to help their wife in labor, or put out a fire. We'd better not prohibit speeding."

Though I can't think of any situation that has ever actually happened where torture would be permissible, I can accept the possibility that it could come up. But whoever, in that exceptional situation, makes the decision to torture, needs to stand in front of a judge and explain exactly why and how they did it. Just like I would if I was busted for speeding, or murdered someone out of self-defense, or stole food to feed my family. That's how the law works. Specific, situational exceptions do not invalidate general principles.

This is obviously true unless you have already decided to make the exception the rule, and then need to find legal justification for lawlessness. Once you accept that scenario, much of what Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld did makes sense. The point of torture is always torture. In my view, Cheney clearly believes in the rationale of pure violence. It's all about the imposition of naked will by brute force on another entity. A waterboard helps.