HOW TO JUSTIFY TORTURE: INSIDE THE TICKING BOMB SCENARIO
Paperback ISBN: 9781912248582
eBook ISBN: 9781912248599
"As passionate as it is rigorous... Anyone sickened by the global re-emergence of torture as a ‘tool of justice’ will find resources for resistance here."
Bob Brecher, University of Brighton
"A must-read book for anyone interested in how the authoritarian turn since 9/11 has been legitimised in popular culture."
Peter Morey, University of Birmingham
"A timely, thoroughly compelling critique that deserves the widest possible readership."
Sam Thomas, Durham University
Published by Repeater Books in 2019.
Arabic translation by Iman Marouf published by Takween Publishing in 2021.
If there was a bomb hidden somewhere in a major city, and you had the person responsible in your custody, would you torture them to get the information needed to stop the bomb exploding, preventing a devastating terrorist attack and saving thousands of lives?
This is the ticking bomb scenario — a thought experiment designed to demonstrate that torture can be justified.
In How to Justify Torture, cultural critic Alex Adams examines the ticking bomb scenario in-depth, looking at the ways it is presented in films, novels, and TV shows — from Batman Begins and Dirty Harry to French military thrillers and home invasion narratives. By critiquing its argument step by step, this short, provocative book reminds us that, despite what the ticking bomb scenario will have us believe, torture can never be justified.
Introduction: Torture and the Texture of Common Sense
One: Utility: Torture as Objective Technology
Two: Virtue: Dark Heroism from Dirty Harry to Daredevil
Three: Protectivity: Torture as Parental Responsibility
Conclusion: Anatomy of a Ticking Bomb
"The claim that culture is political is, for me, quite a simple claim: Parliaments, philosophy seminars and talk shows aren’t the only places where we have public debates about moral, ethical and political debates. Sometimes we have them in the cinema or on Netflix."
Making Torture American Again, With Help From Hollywood, an interview with Kasia Anderson at Truthdig on 23/9/2019. PDF
Absolutely fascinating [...] The writing is spectacular.
"There are many urgent conversations to be had about torture, and ticking bombs feature in none of them. Nonetheless, it has become a ubiquitous argument. [...] In sum, the ticking bomb scenario works, and has remained popular and persuasive, because these three ideas — utility, virtue and protectivity — dynamically overlap and interact to create a false idea: that torture can be justified."
"What I would like to think I have done with this book is give people a set of tools on how to respond to the ticking bomb scenario. I wanted to give people a way of saying, well actually that’s wrong, think about it from this perspective."
Getting Away With Torture is Easy When You're Captain America, an interview with Paola de Varona at The Outline on 5/9/2019. PDF
"Oh my God, he's actually referenced that bit in Always Sunny when Frank's waterboarding Dee in the toilet."