Reports from Mumbai, India, indicate that authorities have captured one or more of the terrorists responsible for attacks on hotels and other civilian locations. Although the attacks have been going on for over two days, as of this moment the situation is not completely under control, indicating that other attackers are laying in wait to launch new attacks.
The situation raises the dilemma faced by Jack Bauer, the character on the television show 24. In a famous scene, Bauer tortures a suspect in order to get information regarding the location of a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles. Bauer locates the bomb, but not soon enough to avoid detonation.
While Indian authorities do not face a nuclear device, they do have custody of terrorists with knowledge of the plan of attack, the location of other group members, and details of the persons who gave training and support. What can and should the Indian authorities do to obtain the information and save lives?
Should Indian authorities, in the name of the rule of law, allow innocent people to die by refusing to use coercive interrogation techniques on people captured with smoking guns in their hands? Is it morally superior to allow people to die rather than to obtain information which could save lives?
We know what the NY Times would do, nothing.
What will President Obama do in a similar circumstance, when the theoretical world of a law professor meets the real world of terrorists who have knowledge of imminent attacks which put the lives of citizens at risk? Will President Obama allow legal theory to trump the President’s obligation to protect innocent life? Lets hope we never have to find out.