Torture for Tots

Readers of Larry Solum’s Legal Theory Blog might have noticed yesterday abstracts for several new papers from heavy hitters in the legal academy. My favorite of these April 1 abstracts was the Cass Sunstein-Adrian Vermeule paper on “Unrestricted Interrogation of Minors Not Yet Shown to Have Engaged in Culpable Behaviors.” “Given our assumptions, there is a moral obligation for the state to engage in the torture of innocent children.” Download that while it’s hot!

A good April Fool’s joke has to be plausible, and I think this abstract fits the bill. The same arguments that have been advanced to argue that executions might be morally required and that torture is at least permissible, if not required, can be used to require torture for tots. All you need is the right hypothetical.

And yet, I think Larry Solum is right that torture for tots is a proposal that most will view as a joke. Indeed, it’s a prospect that might help test the claim that we torture when, and if, and only if, necessity demands it. In a seminar discussion a few months ago, I suggested that contemporary support for torture might be driven by a presumption that those who are tortured deserve to be treated thus. Some of those present resisted this characterization, claiming that the arguments were based strictly on necessity, so I offered a hypothetical in which the only way to find the location of the ticking bomb is to torture the terrorist’s innocent young child. As I recall, none of my fellow seminar attendees wanted to defend torture under those circumstances.

A previously unreleased torture memo penned by John Yoo became available yesterday. Marty Lederman links to Part 1 and Part 2 and discusses the memo. David Luban addresses torture for tots, and other weaknesses of ticking bomb arguments, in a new paper available here. And in “Professors Strangelove,” available here, I offer some thoughts on torture, national security tough talk, and one of my favorite movies.

UPDATE: My soon-to-be colleague Frank Pasquale points out this Salon piece, which includes a link to a fascinating Youtube clip on the question of torturing children.

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2 Responses

  1. Bruce Boyden says:

    The Lucian Bebchuk “abstracts” are quite good also. You need to read through the whole list to get the joke. Larry obviously put a lot of thought and time into these posts!

  2. … yeah sure, we’ll go easy on the tots if it’s only national security at stake but let’s not completely take torture off the table – what if it’s about something that really matters: