Torture. when, if ever, is it acceptable? Since Mr. Binyam Mohamed’s return to the UK from Guantanamo Bay, public sympathy has been in his favour. This has prompted many politicians to speak out on the issue. The latest, of course, is Mr. Craig Murray, who claims that the UK use of information derived from torture only serves to propagate the use of torture by other countries.
What is torture? By definition, it is an act of inflicting severe physical or psychological pain. No one act is defined as torture in itself because only the victim can define their severe physical or psychological pain. The perpetrator uses the victim’s fears to inflict torture. Mr. Mohamed’s experiences may sound extreme to some but mild to others. To him, it was pure mental anguish; therefore, it was torture. Though I cannot comment on his guilt (by association) or innocence, the fact that he denies any threat from Al-Qaeda implies (in my opinion) that he has been brainwashed.
My fear of a terror attack is not disproportionate. I do not spend my days obsessed with discovering details of any potential threat. I do not look for enemies in the faces I see. But, I am aware that somewhere in this world, there are terrorists planning and training. Maybe, they don’t have a full-scale plan in place yet. But, they are not idiots, either. They are very in tune with world events and they take their time. So, yes, I believe they are sitting somewhere hatching a plot.
But does it justify torture to obtain information about any potential threats? Can the information be reliable, if obtained under torture? Those are not easy questions to answer. At one time, it was believed that it was the best method of obtaining information. But they soon discovered they were wrong and reversed their opinion on this. Since the September 11th attacks in New York, we’ve made another U-turn. Who’s right, who’s wrong?
In street crimes, people are tortured to give out information or to hand over money. It usually works, but many of those people end up being killed as well. Did the criminals find torture useful? They must have because it still continues. Did they get the information they needed and was it accurate? That, I cannot say. But I would venture to guess that many times, torture information was true and correct, to the best knowledge of the victim.
Does it work with terrorists? Maybe not, because those people are very willing to die for their cause. However, if they are tortured by using something they fear worse than death, then it might prompt them to be forthcoming. Whether or not the information is reliable may not be relevant, since any and all information would be investigated. But, if you allow for torture, by whatever means, then it begs the question of, how long? How long and how far do you go on torturing an individual until you feel you’ve gotten everything you can get from them?
Physical violence is wrong and I don’t believe anyone would ever tolerate such methods. I will not deny, however, that it probably goes on. Maybe, not in our society, but elsewhere. Denial of human rights will always be questioned. But other, more subtle means of torture may be gray areas. The UK condemns torture, but if they accept torture information, it does show that they condone torture when performed by someone else. Yet, is there another way of extracting useful information without resorting to subtle torture? How else are we to foil terrorists?
Perhaps, one can argue that potential terrorists should be left alone until there is solid evidence for a conviction in a court of law. Unfortunately, technicalities may prevent certain evidence being presented, and even then, jurors might not be able to reach a conviction unless the culprit was caught red-handed. By that time, it may be too late.