Torture and the ticking-bomb myth

NW asked my opinion about legalizing torture, which is as follows:

I don’t think there’s any situation where it can be legally justified. I think it can at least theoretically be justified on moral grounds in some circumstances, and in those circumstances the torturer should be willing to pay whatever penalty is deemed appropriate. After all, if the information he seeks is that overwhelmingly important, then he should be willing to pay a price for obtaining it. If the torturer is not willing to sacrifice hiimself for the information, if he is only willing to sacrifice his victim, then how important can the information possibly be? Be realistic, the nature of government is to stretch its limits, so one can’t reasonably expect legalized torture to remain within the nuanced strictures its defenders envision for long.

As far as the oft-mentioned ticking-time bomb scenario, that’s a particularly ludicrous attempt to justify the unjustifiable on emotional grounds. The ticking-time bomb scenario is a Hollywood invention and to the best of my knowledge there has never been a real one outside of television. One might as reasonably contemplate the burning question of whether or not the torture of intelligent extraterrestrial aliens is justifiable. In reality, either the plot will be broken up by conventional means long before it was to take place, or it will take place as planned and the first the authorities will know of it is when someone calls to report a big explosion.

Moreover, even in the extraordinarily unlikely event that a ticking-time bomb scenario were to occur and the relevant information was extracted by torture, history strongly suggests that it would prove useless because the authorities would sit on it for one reason or another until it was too late. Government does not move quickly enough for even this very improbable justification to hold water.

UPDATE – There is also a broader issue at stake here. If torture is deemed legally permissible, what is the limiting factor in preventing it being applied to every situation in which the government would like to obtain information? First, torture is an obvious violation of the 5th Amendment since it is being used to compel the victim to testify against himself. Second, if it is legal and trumps the 5th amendment, why should the police, the DEA, and the IRS not also be permitted to compel testimony in this manner? Remember, we’re dealing with a government that has successfully claimed that it can ban certain naturally growing plants under the Interstate Commerce clause even though said plants are neither sold nor cross state lines.