Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Legal Torture

It's well accepted among sane people that George Bush was a moron of the highest proportions, and that he should never have been able to hold the most powerful job in the world. But sometimes even morons can do something that surprises you in its stupidity, and he's decided to demonstrate this point in a beautiful way, and we should never misunderestimate old George's ability to do just that.

Today's big cover story in The Times proclaims that 'Waterboarding Saved London from Attacks', going with a story from George Bush that he allowed waterboarding to take place, and he thinks the information gleaned from this saved many lives from terrorist attacks.

Now in the much glamourised world of spies, the likes of Jack Bauer go running round all day chasing bad guys and it's only through the use of force that anything gets done, then all of a sudden the day is saved. Bush seems to subscribe to this view. That isn't how it works.

First of all Bush tries to claim that waterboarding isn't torture because it 'didn't leave any permanent damage'. I understand that George has his own dictionary, and a very 'special' way with words, but this has never been the definition of torture, and so it shouldn't be.

The real definition, if you're interested, is that torture is defined as "...any act by which severe suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person".

For those who don't know, waterboarding is essentially a way of slowly drowning someone, so that they are put in such pain that they will tell the people torturing them absolutely anything. Christopher Hitchens volunteered to be waterboarded to see what it was like, and to show just how horrifying it is. If that isn't torture, then nothing is.

As a country we should never participate or condone anything like this, or any form of torture whatsoever. There is the argument that the ends (getting information) justify the means, but I don't think that stands up at all. If you justify waterboarding then why not beating up the prisoner, or putting them on the rack? We realised long ago that torture is immoral and not helpful, justifying a new form of torture on the grounds that it doesn't cause 'physical damage' is abhorrent.

To use the ends justify the means argument you're making a lot of assumptions. You assume you have the right person. You assume that they know everything you need to know. You assume that they will tell you the right information in time. I think that's a lot of assumptions to make to justify inflicted horrendous suffering on someone, and indeed there's plenty of evidence which shows that torture is a terrible way of getting accurate information from people.

And on that other point, I said the prisoner would tell the torturer 'anything', and I meant exactly that. They will say absolutely anything to get out of that situation, not just the truth. You could end up with a whole load of false leads because someone is so understandably desperate to get out of that situation that they will say whatever they think the person wants to hear.

Torture doesn't work, and is indefensible morally. Whatever benefits George may now claim it bought (which are very dubious indeed) it cannot justify the means. I've said before, if security services need to break human rights laws to get their job done, then they should find another way to do their job.

How can we as a people criticise human rights issues in other countries when we are complicit in torture? We can't. It makes no difference whether it's a pensioner, a schoolchild or a terrorist, human rights apply to everyone. If human rights aren't universal, then they aren't worth a jot.

Like Franklin said, "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security, will deserve neither and lose both."

Edit: A writer at ConservativeHome has applauded George Bush for his 'decisiveness' and claimed he will be seen positively in the future. I've said before why I think being decisive is a very overrated attribute, and would much rather have someone in power who occasionally changed their mind after seeing new evidence than a leader like Bush who went charging all guns blazing (quite literally in some cases) without any thought for consequences or changing situations.

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