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Argument: Leaders must be afforded the flexbility to judge that torture is the most probable way to save hundreds of thousands of lives

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It is true that the "ticking time-bomb" scenario may not occur in the way that the simple thought experiment is often framed, with the lives at risk being known with certainty and the fact that a terrorist suspect has information that could locate and difuse the bomb being known with certainty as well. Some argue that this defeats the acceptability of the thought experiment, arguing that these uncertainties mean that the ethical calculation justifying torture cannot be made; perefect information is required. Yet, there needn't be such a high standard of certainty for the thought experiment to hold, and for it to justify the possible, exceptional circumstance in which torture is justified on the probabilities that it is the best option to save hundreds of thousands of lives.

Imagine the following, plausible, ticking time-bomb scenario, which leaves room for levels of probability and judgement of those probabilities in making the decision that torture is justified. Information is obtained by a reliable spy (not an unreliable terrorist informant) that she has uncovered plans of a suitcase nuclear bomb in downtown Manhattan, set to detonate in two hours from now. The timing of the detonation is established by the terrorists, in their plan, because the detonation is set to coincide with other terrorist acts. The spy informs the CIA (taking the US, for example) that the CIA had unkowingly picked-up a suspect 1 week prior at an air port, whom is actually one of the architects of the plan. He is highly likely to have in-depth knowledge of its details, including, with a high probability of certainty, the target address for the detonation. The spy has uncovered detailed information that the plan has been executed up to this point and that, in fact, the bomb is present in Manhattan and will detonate in 2 hours. There is a high degree of probability that this information is reliable, that hundreds of thousands of lives are at risk, and that the suspect has information that could lead agents to the bomb's address and to difuse it.

In this scenario, there is a high probability (let's imagine 70%) that torture is the most likely way to quickly obtain the information that the suspect is likely to have that could lead, with high probability, to saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. It does not matter in this scenario that any absolute certainty exists. What matters are the probabilities, which can only be judged in that moment by a leader capable of making these ethical calculations. Shouldn't that leader be given the flexibility to judge that torture would be worth it, if it is the most likely way to save hundreds of thousands of lives? Don't we afford the flexibility to policmen to shoot and kill an individual that pulls a gun on another individual and appears highly likely to shoot that innocent civilian? We afford flexibility to that policemen to make a life-death decision regarding an assailant based simply on the judgement of the rough probability, not the certainty, that the assailant is going to pull the trigger. Shouldn't we also afford this same flexbility to our leaders, when they judge that an individual is highly likely to "pull the trigger" (withold vital information) on thousands of innocent civilians? Shouldn't we disregard that individual's right to life in the face of overwhelming evidence and probabilities, and give our leaders the flexbility to commit torture? Or, would we call the leader in this situation a criminal that violated the law, and that must now face legal punishment?

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