Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fallacy of the Ticking Time Bomb

A research essay by - Heather Spoonheim

Yesterday I started doing some research on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on America. It has always bothered me that reliable information about a man at the center of those attacks has remained so elusive: like the exact location and date of his birth, who his parents were, and what grade schools he attended - so I decided to start digging around for available source material on my own. Now I am not an historian and neither am I trained in the accompanying methodology so I must acknowledge, here and now, that my efforts are haphazard at best, and I've barely scratched the surface.

That being said, I've run across a connection in the data that I find rather interesting and for which I would like a second (third, forth, and fifth) opinion. I started preparing a timeline for the biography of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed(KSM) from this U.S. Department of Defense(DoD) document that I found archived by the New York Times. In it, the capture of KSM by the ISI of Pakistan is stated to be March 1, 2003 and clearly indicates that he was immediately transfered into U.S. custody [top of page 5]. The document then lays out arguments as to why KSM should remain in DoD detention, and in one of those arguments they assert [on page 10] that he was party to the Marriott Hotel Bombing in Jakarta as well as the Australian Embassy Bombing in Jakarta. Where this gets interesting is that those two bombings took place after KSM had been taken into custody; in that way, they are the perfect example of the 'ticking time bomb' scenario so often conjectured in an attempt to illustrate a justified application of torture.

The entries describing the bombing plot [page 10] indicate that three bombings were planned, with the first one being a Nightclub Bombing in Bali, five months before KSM was captured. KSM is even said to have paid out a sum of money in congratulations for that first bombing to a man named Hambali. I went digging a little further and found that the New York Times also archived some Justice Department memos that reveal KSM actually gave up Hambali after being tortured [page 94, DoJ memo], but that still didn't result in actionable intelligence capable of preventing the last two bombings. Hambali was captured in October 2003 , a couple of months after the Marriott Hotel Bombing - too late - and even then they couldn't develop actionable intelligence to stop the final bombing. So here we have a real life example of torture failing to diffuse two very real ticking time bombs.

The information doesn't end there, however. In the first document, from the DoD, KSM is said to have claimed there was another attack planned on the U.S. in which a commercial airplane would be hijacked and flown into the tallest building in California. This attack obviously didn't occur, but President George W. Bush actually cited the information extracted from KSM as having allowed his administration to foil the plot; he didn't, however, provide any mug shots or court documents to suggest anyone had ever been arrested or convicted in that plot. It seems that KSM may have just fabricated the plot to appease his torturers. In this case the ticking time bomb scenario became inverted as President Bush tried to justify torture that he had already committed by fabricating a bomb that he knew did not exist. What's worse, although his bomb was imaginary, the torture most decidedly, was NOT.

So the next time someone asks you if torture might be justified by some imaginary ticking time bomb that can only be stopped by water-boarding a known terrorist - just say 'NO', and point them to the miscarriage of justice carried out by the Bush administration that failed to keep anyone safe and which served only to cause more suffering than it could ever hope to prevent.

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