Volume 23, 2007
International Law and Justice
Bernard G. Prusak
The Ticking Time Bomb Case for Torture
I make two arguments in this paper. First, I argue briefly that the ticking time bomb case is unrealistic and as such is liable to mislead us badly on the ground. Second, after conceding that the conditions of the ticking time bomb case might someday be realized, I argue that it may in fact be morally permissible to torture a terrorist in this case on the grounds of self-defense. My reason for making this argument is that rejecting torture in even the ticking time bomb case risks discrediting objections to torture in other, more realistic cases. Yet the principle established by the ticking time bomb case is of extremely limited application. Given the extreme improbability that the conditions of this case could ever be realized, public authorities who sanction torturing someone should have to bear a heavy burden of proof that this decision was justified on the grounds of self-defense.