The Ticking Bomb Scenario

Friday, September 14, 2007

Defusing the Ticking Bomb Scenario

In June 2007, as part of a series of activities to mark its 30th anniversary, the APT convened a meeting of experts to discuss responses to the ticking bomb scenario. In popular films and television series, on talk shows and news, in academic journals and political debates, the possible use of torture to prevent a terrorist attack in a hypothetical 'ticking bomb scenario' is a hot topic. The dramatic nature of the scenario, and the artificially simple moral answers it seems to offer, have helped it make a significant impression on public audiences. Yet this scenario ultimately seeks to destroy the hard-won absolute prohibition of torture under international and national laws. In presenting certain acts of torture as justifiable, even desirable, in distorting reality and manipulating emotions and ethical reasoning, in leading well-intentioned societies down a slippery slope to legalised and systematic torture, the ticking bomb scenario represents a grave threat to global anti-torture efforts.

Based on discussions at and following the June 2007 meeting, the APT has prepared Defusing the Ticking Bomb Scenario: Why we must say No to torture, always. This brochure provides the general public, human rights advocates, academics and governments with essential arguments against any proposed 'ticking bomb' exception to the prohibition of torture. It exposes the misleading and flawed hidden assumptions of the scenario, and emphasises the toxic effect of torture, like slavery and genocide, on societies that tolerate it. It recalls the fundamental and absolute nature of the prohibition under international law, and describes how the scenario manipulates moral and ethical judgment by obscuring the true moral cost of tolerating any act of torture.