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Jun 6, 2007


Last night Four Corners ran an investigation of torture in the current international situation which Deserves comment. I will be Quoting from the transcript.

The conclusion from the program from my point of view is that a strictly ‘practical’ or utilitarian viewpoint, it has limited usefulness, and may be more of a liability both from the aspect of accuracy, and from the moral outrage the use of torture inspires in the community.

This is borne out by the following exchange: -

SALLY NEIGHBOUR (to Jack Cloonan):
And what about if you use physical coercion, even torture?

I’m not going to argue that you aren’t going to get information from people if you torture them. You will get information.
The question is are you going to get accurate information or are you just getting something that frankly is expedient?

In the third century AD, a Roman jurist named Ulpian who had considerable experience at torture, in one of his legal commentaries he wrote "torture is a difficult and deceptive thing for the strong will resist and the weak will say anything to end the pain", and everything we’ve learned in the last 1800 years confirms over and over again the fundamental wisdom of those words.

Apparently some of the most unreliable intelligence the Americans have used came from torture, including some of the stuff used to justify the Iraq invasion.

In March 2003 the US and its allies invaded Iraq. One of the reasons given for the invasion was that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda were working together on weapons of mass destruction.

I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al-Qaeda. Fortunately this operative is now detained and he has told his story...
(End of excerpt)

The detainee Powell was referring to was Ibn Sheik al Libi, the al-Qaeda captive taken over by the CIA and sent to Egypt in a box.
(Excerpt continued):
: ... The support that this detainee describes included Iraq offering chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda associates beginning in December 2000...

At the same time an FBI guy said that he got good results by courteous treatment.

I may sit and talk to them, I may just tell them my name and not even ask them a question. I may say, "Have you prayed today? Do you know which way Mecca is and if you haven’t prayed why don’t I allow you to pray? And by the way, how are you feeling? Do want something to eat?" You know.

SALLY NEIGHBOUR (to Jack Cloonan):
Does that approach work?

Often times it did surprisingly. If you engage in a lot of yelling and a lot of histrionics and frankly amateurish sophomoric stuff you are gong to stiffen the resolve of somebody who’s trying to protect information.

Reference is then made to the French torture of Algerians in the battle of Algiers.

“An estimated 300,000 people were tortured, and a similar number killed. The insurgency was crushed, but the French people were so horrified by their government’s tactics that France was forced to withdraw from Algeria.”

This bears out my contention that the use of torture is even from a practical point of view is of limited usefulness, and can be counterproductive.

This is not why I oppose it however.

I maintain that the reason we in the west are at the top of the heap is not because of who we are, but because of what we are.
We are the inheritors of a political/ethical/economic system, which is the closest thing that such a system can get to a realistic reflection of human nature. Since reaching its philosophical peak after the end of war of Independence, it has declined somewhat in its application, but the system is so good that even in decline its material benefits have advanced.

It will take many more government restrictions on our personal and economic liberties to drag down the capitalist system and the benefits that it bestows on mankind.

The west tends to base the philosophy behind it on a strong sense of rights, - freedom/liberty, rights of man, sense of fair play, etc., whereby people have the right to live their lives in the absence of oppression. Governments tend to be restricted in how far they can go, either by constitution, or the knowledge of at what point the people wont stand for it any more.

This system tends to have an inbuilt tolerance about it, as characterized by Thomas Jefferson:
“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

In a war, we are in hostilities normally with people who do not necessarily adhere to the same values as we do. Should we afford them the same rights as we have?

We have the attitude that it is morally wrong to torture our own citizens, if we were to hear of it going on within our justice system we wouldn’t stand for it. Torture is after all, morally reprehensible. We consider it a barbarous act.

If it is in fact a barbarous act to do it to each other, it is no less a barbarous act to do it to others, after all despite their views on morality and ethics being different to ours they are nonetheless human. There is in fact no difference between torturing a human being and torturing an animal, and we don’t stand for that.

If it was accepted that it was right to torture the enemy in the “war on terror”, then we have to accept torturing pushers and users in the “war on drugs”, or poor people in the “war on poverty”, after all they are all rhetorical wars.

The ‘enemy’ in the war on terror are not genuine combatants, but vicious criminals and should be treated as such, and the rules of due process should apply.

Those of you who wish to give me hell in the light of my previous statements should note that during the writing of this article, and in the taking of flack from you over utterances in the past, (smug bastards), I have had reason to change my views on the ‘war on terror’. It is my considered opinion that the term should be dropped and not used again, as not only does it give the state a pretext to take away our rights under ‘emergency powers’, but lends terrorists a legitimacy that they don’t have.


1 comment:

  1. As I said to you on Four Corners: "I can’t get too intellectual about this topic. All I can say is that war cannot not be savage. “All’s fair etc” but it seems that torture produces such unreliable results that there does not seem to be much point in using it."