Cheers to MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Vanity Fair's Christopher Hitchens, for their resolute opposition to Michael Smerconish's cockamamie embrace of institutionalized torture. Smerconish, gripped by the fear of "ticking timebomb scenarios," mounted a defense of the practice that bordered on the pornographic, and decisively crossed over into the territory of the nonsensical.
I've never been impressed with the reasoning behind the "ticking time bomb" scenario, a facile little bit of quasi-ethical wonkery that serves the plots of television shows like Alias or 24 far better than it does reality. This idea is, if one has someone in custody who has what one believes to be "actionable intelligence" on an imminent terrorist threat, then one should be prepared to brutally torture that information out of the detainee.
The problem is, the application of logic destroys this premise. Either the person in your custody has information, or he doesn't. That person is either willing to share that information, or he isn't. If the person does not have the information, then torture is both a waste of precious time and a terrible moral wrong. But, if, hypothetically, that detainee does have the information at hand, it stands to reason that they also have a pretty firm idea as to how much time is left on that ticking clock. With that information in hand, the detainee is free to use this radical technique commonly referred to as "deception" to waylay his captors and ensure the success of the plot. It's fairly clear then, that even in the event of a "ticking time bomb" scenario, torture inevitably and logically leads to a waste of precious time and the commission of a moral wrong.
As far as torture's lack of efficacy, I'd refer you to an expert on the matter, author Matthew Alexander, who stated firmly that he "never saw coercive methods [pay off]...When I was in Iraq, the few times I saw people use harsh methods, it was always counterproductive." Similarly, he disputed the story of the "ticking time bomb":
"When I was in Iraq we were dealing with the ticking time bomb every day, the people we had captured, they were behind the suicide bombs. So many of them, right then and there, had information that could have saved lives. But we knew that if we resorted to torture to get that information, that al Qaeda would have used that to recruit more fighters in the future."
So, what this really breaks down to is Smerconish absurdly advocating for blowtorches to be wielded against other human beings, for no other reason than it just feels right to be a torturing American. I guess it would be okay for our enemies to do the same to our soldiers. I guess it would be okay to tromp on children's testicles.
You know, I might feel differently if we had a President who, if forced to use torture in an effort to save lives, had the moral compass to immediately resign the office and render himself unto the judgment of The Hague. But those we have in charge have clearly demonstrated that they lack that sense of responsibility - they want complete credit for saving lives without ever having to own the means by which they were saved. As such, no one should have to countenance this despicable bullshit.