How to Justify Torture: Inside the Ticking Bomb Scenario


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.


    "This book – as passionate as it is rigorous – dismantles the so-called ticking bomb justification of torture, while at the same time offering genuinely new cultural insights into how and why torture has come to be seen, by some, as a legitimate weapon. Anyone sickened by the global re-emergence of torture as a “tool of justice” will find resources for resistance here."

    Bob Brecher, Professor of Philosophy at the 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