It's one of the paradoxes philosophy students are asked to consider.
There is a bomb somewhere. Authorities do not know where exactly. They do, however, have a suspect in custody, who may know where the bomb is. The suspect refuses to talk. Time is running out. Do you potentially save hundreds of lives and torture the information out of the suspect?
The Senate answered the question with a definitive "no" this week, passing an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill (HR2863) that restricts the methods of interrogation used on detainees with a vote of 90-9.
Thus far in the "War on Terror," the Bush White House has determined interrogation policy for military at home and overseas.
But it has been a policy of ambiguity. In order to protect the administration and military commanders, soldiers don't know what rules to follow when questioning detainees.
Sen. John McCain, who sponsored the amendment, paraphrased a letter he received from Army Captain Ian Fishback, who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Over 17 months he struggled to get answers from his chain of command to a basic question: What standards apply to the treatment of enemy detainees? But he found no answers. In his remarkable letter, he pleads with Congress, asking us to take action, to establish standards, to clear up the confusion," McCain said.
The amendment (SA1977) identifies the Army field manual as the only source from which to draw interrogation techniques. The use of the manual applies to military servicemen and women, but not to the CIA.
But it also states that no detainee under the control of any branch of the United States government shall be exposed to cruel or inhumane treatment, defined by the fifth, eighth and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution.
The Bush administration threatened to veto the bill, stating that the president needed to keep all options open in order to "protect Americans effectively from terrorist attack and bring terrorists to justice."
The bill still needs to be reconciled with the House version that does not include a similar amendment. It will then have to pass a vote in both the House and Senate before it is sent to the president.
Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar added his name to the list of cosponsors for the bill.
Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard, however, was one of nine to vote against the amendment.
"All it does is tie the hands of the Department of Defense at a time when maximum flexibility within the boundaries of the U.S. law is needed," Allard said in an email.
Government policies need to protect servicemen and women from prosecution and possible retribution by enemy forces if captured. They need to embody the traits we hold in our constitution in order to spread democracy. And they need to follow a moral code that all Americans can live with.
The offices of Senator Ken Salazar and Representative Marilyn Musgrave were contacted for comment, but they did not return calls before press time.
Ben Bleckley is a senior English major. His column runs on Mondays.