Torture apologists invariably wind up invoking outlandish “ticking time bomb” hypotheticals to justify their barbarous behavior. Wouldn’t you torture someone to prevent the imminent nuclear destruction of Los Angeles? Then if you say “yes” quickly they leap to, “so obviously Dick Cheney is right to think we should torture people in order to produce false confessions of Iraq/al-Qaeda links.”
But it’s just really hard to see any examples of this “ticking time bomb” scenario playing out in real life.
Steve Benen observes that given two weeks to think up a concrete example of the utility of torture, Charles Krauthammer came up with some very weak sauce. It seems that at some point in the 1980s, the IDF took a captive who they thought had knowledge of the location of an IDF corporal who was being held prisoner. The captive was tortured, he coughed up the location, and the IDF found the corporal there, already dead.
What I think this primarily illustrates is how quickly and severely this particular slippery slope slips. We start out saying we would be willing to torture someone in order to save the lives of millions. We end up saying we would be willing to torture someone in order to maybe save the life of one soldier. Needless to say, however, there are lots of situations in which better investigative methods might save one person’s life. Which brings me back to the point that the logic of the conservative view is that we ought to be torturing routinely in all walks of life.