The Ticking Time Bomb


Apropos of Antonin Scalia’s simplistic analysis below, it can’t be said often enough that the torture techniques authorized by the President have not been used only in ticking time bomb scenarios (and it’s not clear they were ever used in that situation).

Here for example is how they were used on one of the six detainees charged yesterday in the 9/11 attacks:

Qahtani’s case drew condemnation in June 2005 when Time magazine published leaked portions of his interrogation log showing that U.S. forces had him bark like a dog and left him to urinate on himself in isolation.

In the log, U.S. interrogators describe how they ratcheted up techniques on Qahtani during 50 days starting in November 2002 to extract a confession — by using sleep deprivation, leaving him strapped to an intravenous drip without bathroom breaks and having him strip naked.

Monday, he was one of six men named by the Pentagon to face a complex six-defendant war crimes trial for the suicide attacks that slammed aircraft into the Pentagon, World Trade Center and a Pennsylvania field — killing 2,973 people.

The six men could be executed if they are convicted, and if a Bush administration official approves their trial as a death-penalty case.

The Pentagon has since said that Qahtani’s interrogation tactics were personally approved by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Qahtani’s civilian attorney said the captive has since recanted any confessions he made during those interrogations.

Extracting a confession is a whole different ballgame, as Justice Scalia might say. And note the date the torture started, November 2002, more than a year after 9/11. So even granting some legal or moral authority to the ticking time bomb argument, it doesn’t appear to apply here.


David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.