In a 2002 book review for The New Republic, Richard Posner argued that "if torture is the only means of obtaining the information necessary to prevent the detonation of a nuclear bomb in Times Square, torture should be used." The "ticking time-bomb scenario" would be invoked often in successive years, mostly by conservatives opposed to an outright ban on the practice.
That history came back to me as I read a critical response to the independent report on detainee treatment described here. The report insists that the Bush Administration did torture prisoners.
The critic, Max Boot, doesn't deny it.
"I cannot help but agree with this conclusion," he wrote. "Bush administration whitewash about 'enhanced interrogation techniques' notwithstanding, many of the measures employed by interrogators on a small number of terrorism suspects, such as the use of waterboarding, did amount to torture as commonly understood."
"Where I part company with the self-righteous commission is in its excoriation of administration officials for ordering steps that they believed necessary to defend the United States," he writes, "and which arguably were necessary if one believes the testimony of former officials that 'enhanced interrogation techniques' were responsible for uncovering Osama bin Laden." Got that? After reading a report that details frequent torture in multiple countries over a period of years, Boot isn't horrified, or insistent that the torture was needed to, say, disarm a nuke in Times Square.