Friday, July 10, 2009

On torture and terror

The real question is: How much truth can I stand?
- Friedrich Nietzsche

What madness seized our leaders, after the carnage and horror of the September 11th attacks? The 'rules of the game' changed, the 'gloves came off' - but at what terrible, bloody cost?

'MI5 is not like Spooks. In Spooks everything is solved by half a dozen people who break laws to achieve results. I think that given that we actually work strictly within the law, it is potentially quite damaging for the suggestion to prevail that we are totally above the law' - Eliza Manningham Buller, 18 November 2007

I suppose it depends who is drafting the laws and who is passing them.

Do the British public even care if our intelligence services torture suspected terrorists by proxy? They damn well should care, for pragmatic and self-interested reasons, if not for moral ones. Torture does not lead to good intelligence. Torture does not save lives. Torture does not stop terrorists. In fact, it recruits them.

Those who think torture works should urgently read this: the account of Matthew Alexander, a US interrogator, published on November 30th in the Washington Post

'I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans...'

read the rest

It is worth reminding yourself of the background to what has been brought into sharp focus this week. In the week that marks the fourth anniversary of the 7th July 2005 London bombings, the Guardian has published a lengthy and damning article by investigative journalist Ian Cobain. In it he covered how the UK has outsourced torture, been complicit in torture and how the authorisation of torture seems to go right to the top, writing that

'...there is mounting evidence that torture is still regarded by some agents of the British state as a useful and legitimate investigative tool. There is evidence too that in the post-9/11 world, government officials have been prepared to look the other way while British citizens, and others, have been tortured in secret prisons around the world. It is also clear that an official policy, devised to govern British intelligence officers while interrogating people held overseas, resulted in people being tortured.

The Guardian has established that Tony Blair, when prime minister, was aware of the existence of this policy. What he knew of its terrible consequences is less clear: he has repeatedly been asked, in a series of letters from the Guardian, what he believed to have happened to those who were subjected to the policy, but he has repeatedly failed to answer the question. There is a growing suspicion that Blair could not have been alone, and that other very senior figures in government may have been aware of the existence of Britain's secret interrogation policy. What did David Blunkett and Jack Straw, the ministers responsible for MI5 and MI6 at the time, know about the policy and its consequences for people detained in the so-called war on terror? They too have declined to say, stating that it is the British government's policy not to condone torture, but that they cannot comment further because of a number of forthcoming court cases.'

Lat at night on the 7th July, David Davis used parliamentary privilege to make an electrifying speech in which he revealed how the police and M15 sub-contracted the torture of Rangzieb Ahmed to the Pakistani ISI.

It is significant British-born Rangzieb Ahmed, rejected by his family as a teenager and left with his step-mother in Pakistan had been tortured before - by the Indian authorities, when he was picked up in Kashmir - and it is believed to be this early experience that led to his radicalisation. He was convicted of terrorist offences in December 2008.

It is not only wicked, but stupid to think this can continue unchecked. It is intolerable and it cannot be tolerated. It is making things worse. It is playing into the hands of our enemies. It is endangering innocent lives. It is jeopardising national security; that 'national security' is being invoked by those who signed off on torture as policy to try to hide their culpability is repellent, amoral and frankly, deranged.

Once again, well done to David Davis.



Blogger Martin Budden said...

One of the points you make is that torture does not lead to good intelligence. People being tortured will say anything to make the torture stop. Here's what Jesse Ventura (ex US Navy SEAL, ex Governor of Minesota and ex professional wrestler) has to say on the subject (he's being interviewed by Larry King):

VENTURA: ... it's a good thing I'm not president because I would prosecute every person that was involved in that torture. I would prosecute the people that did it. I would prosecute the people that ordered it. Because torture is against the law.

KING: You were a Navy SEAL.

VENTURA: That's right. I was water boarded, so I know -- at SERE School, Survival Escape Resistance Evasion. It was a required school you had to go to prior to going into the combat zone, which in my era was Vietnam. All of us had to go there. We were all, in essence -- every one of us was water boarded. It is torture.

KING: What was it like?

VENTURA: It's drowning. It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning. It is no good, because you -- I'll put it to you this way, you give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I'll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders[my emphasis].

The video clip and transcript are at:
The conversation about torture starts at about minute 1:20, but the whole clip is worth watching.

July 11, 2009 11:53 am  

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