During his confirmation hearing today, Attorey General nominee Eric Holder unequivocally rejected torture. “No one is above the law,” Holder said repeatedly during the hearing.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) could not fathom that an Attorney General would reject a practice that both is unlawful and endangers Americans. He tried to get Holder to back off his anti-torture stance by presenting an absurd “ticking time bomb” hypothetical in which thousands of American lives are at stake. “You would still refuse to condone aggressive interrogation techniques?” Cornyn asked. When Holder replied that waterboarding is not the only interrogation method, Cornyn insisted, “Assume that it was”:
HOLDER: I think your hypothetical assumes a premise that I’m not willing to concede.
CORNYN: I know you don’t like my hypothetical.
HOLDER: No, the hypothetical’s fine; the premise that underlies it I’m not willing to accept, and that is that waterboarding is the only way that I could get that information from those people.
CORNYN: Assume that it was.
HOLDER: [Laughs] Given the knowledge that I have about other techniques and what I’ve heard from retired admirals and generals and FBI agents, there are other ways in a timely fashion that you can get information out of people that is accurate and will produce useable intelligence. And so it’s hard for me to accept or to answer your hypothetical without accepting your premise. And in fact, I don’t think I can do that.
A few minutes later, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) identified where Cornyn most likely thought up his torture-is-the-only-option scenario: “I understand Senator Cornyn’s questions. They are questions that anyone who watches Jack Bauer on ’24′ would ask.”
Intelligence officials have repeatedly rejected the idea of a ticking time bomb scenario. Jack Cloonan, who spent 25 years as an FBI special agent and interrogated members of al Qaeda, said that he has “been hard pressed to find a situation where anybody” can say “that they’ve ever encountered the ticking bomb scenario” when interrogating terrorists. He said it is a “red herring” and “[i]n the real world it doesn’t happen.”
One law professor, who has extensively researched interrogation, said she had heard of only one ticking time bomb scenario. “It’s on the show ’24.’ And that’s the only one I know of.”
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