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37 Case W. Res. J. Int'l L. 231 (2005-2006)
Torture in Dreamland: Disposing of the Ticking Bomb

handle is hein.journals/cwrint37 and id is 237 raw text is: TORTURE IN DREAMLAND: DISPOSING OF THE TICKING BOMB
Henry Shue t
Nothing has changed. The body still trembles as it trembled before
Rome was founded and after, in the twentieth century before and after
Christ. Tortures are just what they were, only the earth has shrunk
and whatever goes on sounds as if it's just a room away.
Torture is wrong.2 But sometimes we feel justified in doing what
we know is wrong because the stakes are so very high. So the next question
is: is torture so wrong that it is inexcusable no matter how high the stakes
are'? I will argue that all actual arrangements for torture are inexcusable, in
spite of the fact that we can imagine hypothetical cases, like the notorious
ticking-bomb cases in which it seems excusable.3 Why are imaginary
examples like ticking-bomb hypotheticals so badly misleading about how to
plan for real cases? They mislead in two different ways that compound the
error: idealization and abstraction.4 Idealization is the addition of positive
features to an example in order to make the example better than reality,
which lacks those features. Abstraction is the deletion of negative features
of reality from an example in order to make the example still better than
reality. Idealization adds sparkle, abstraction removes dirt. Together they
make the hypothetical superior to reality and thereby a disastrously
misleading analogy from which to derive conclusions about reality.
The advocates of torture love a ticking bomb. But even the honest
and thoughtful are mesmerized and bedeviled by the ticking-bomb hypo-
t Henry Shue is a Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford. He is
grateful to intense audiences at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Cornell
University, Dickinson College, Princeton University, University of Dayton, and University
of Oxford for valuable reactions to various formulations of these views and to Robert K.
Fullinwider for a quarter-century of discussion of the fundamental methodological issue,
often soothed by Bluegrass. The final judgments here on the relative weights of the compet-
ing considerations are of course his responsibility.
SAND: SELECTED POEMS 151 (Stanislaw Baranczak & Clare Cavanagh trans., 1995).
2 David Sussman provides a powerful explanation of why torture is wrong in his article in
this volume. David Sussman, Defining Torture, 37 CASE W. RES. J. INT'L L. (2006).
3 David Luban, Torture, American-Style: This Debate Comes Down to Words vs. Deeds,
WASH. POST, Nov. 27, 2005, at B 1 (illustrating what a serious distraction from reality tick-
ing-bomb cases are in the current U.S. debates).
4 My account of these two intellectual processes is roughly derived from Onora O'Neill,
Ethical Reasoning and Ideological Pluralism, 98 ETHICS 705, 711-12 (1988).

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