Defusing the Ticking Bomb Scenario (2007)

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.

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.