This is a cross-post from Barrister Blogger by Matthew Scott
The question, as counsel love to say to witnesses wrestling with an unfair question, is a simple one:
If a nuclear time bomb is ticking away at an undisclosed central London location, is it morally permissible to torture somebody to discover its location so that it can be disarmed?
In real life the chances of any choice being as clear cut as the “ticking bomb” scenario are all but non-existent. The situation bears little more relationship to reality than a school debate about whether Stephen Hawking or Alan Bennett should be the first to be thrown out of the balloon.
Would we be sure that there really was a nuclear bomb?
Would we be sure that we had the right man?
Would we be sure that torture was the most effective way of extracting the information?
Nevertheless, if the dilemma is posed as starkly as a straight choice between water-boarding an individual, or a nuclear holocaust for millions, the answer to whether we should inflict torture is surely an unequivocal “yes”. In such an hypothetical situation it would be absurd to scruple over the infliction of pain on an individual if the certain consequence of doing so was death to millions.
Does it follow then, that the law should allow interrogators, such as those employed by the CIA, or even MI6, to use torture?
Do read the rest of this post here