Torture is morally indefensible even when used in an attempt to prevent an attack on innocent victims, panelists said during a discussion at Fordham Law School on Thursday, Jan. 25.
A common justification for torture, the panelists said, involves the “ticking time bomb scenario” in which such an extreme measure must be used to save lives. But the panelists agreed that even in such a dire situation, the ends do not justify the means for a number of practical reasons, among them the fact that torture often doesn’t yield valuable information, its sanction by government erodes a nation’s moral standing, and it invariably leads to “torture creep,” spreading from tightly constrained usage in extreme cases to an ever-wider sphere.
“In the world we live, given the way people are, the use of torture as an official policy cannot be sustained,” said Aziz Huq, J.D., director of the Liberty and National Security Project at the Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law. “On the contrary, the ticking time bomb scenario is what I would call a moral fraud. It’s a fraud because it betrays any fidelity to the factual world as it exists. … It’s a sustained effort to instill the morality of fear and anger. And it’s an effort to justify the assertion of absolute domination of certain individuals in a critical sphere of life, human relationships.”
Huq was joined on the panel by Michael Cassidy, J.D., associate professor at Boston College School of Law, and Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, director of education and outreach at Rabbis for Human Rights North America. The event was sponsored by the Institute for Religion, Law and Lawyer’s Work at Fordham Law School, the Auburn Theological Seminary and the Louis Finkelstein Institute at the Jewish Theological Seminary.