Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In Defence of Torture.

The recent court findings concerning MI5 and the torture of Binyam Mohamed were bound to bring some people racing to the security services defence, and it was honestly no surprise that Bruce Anderson was one of them. He's a right winger that The Independent often invite to give his opinion in their pages, but the article he penned in defence of what was done to Binyam Mohamed - "We not only have a right to use torture. We have a duty." - was extraordinary, even by his standards.

He started with the usual "Torture is revolting.... but" diatribe which seems so popular with many on the right. His argument is basically the "ticking time bomb" theory which defenders of torture often cling to; someone is about to detonate a nuclear bomb over a city and there is a suspect who might have information which could prevent this catastrophe, is it moral under those circumstances to torture one man to save the lives of hundreds of thousands? There has, of course, never been a single instance in the whole of human history when this scenario has presented itself, but it is often used by those with an authoritarian mindset to defend the use of torture in far more mundane circumstances than the "life or death" scenario they present to defend it.

Binyam Mohamed, for example, had his penis repeatedly slashed with a blade, not because his torturers feared that there was a nuclear bomb about to explode over a city, they simply did it because... well, I'll never understand why they did it, but people like Bruce Anderson race to defend the indefensible.

But Anderson then takes it substantially further.

He tells of a debate he had with Sydney Kentridge, a man he describes as "a fearless defender of unpopular causes, from Nelson Mandela in the old South Africa to fox-hunting in modern Britain." He then gives us the exchange which took place between him and "one of the great liberals of our age":

I prepared to receive incoming fire. It came, in the form of a devilish intellectual challenge. "Let's take your hypothesis a bit further. We have captured a terrorist, but he is a hardened character. We cannot be certain that he will crack in time. We have also captured his wife and children".

After much agonising, I have come to the conclusion that there is only one answer to Sydney's question. Torture the wife and children.

There we have it: torture the wife and children.

I have spoken before about this tendency in American right wing circles - led by the former American Vice President, Dick Cheney - to publicly call for war crimes to be committed, but it has now crossed the Atlantic and is being espoused by British right wingers as well.

What has it come to that a supposedly "serious" right wing columnist could put pen to such an article? Are they really so scared of al Qaeda that they will call for the torture of other people's wives and children and demand that it is our "duty" to do so.

These same people used to make the argument that al Qaeda wanted to take away "our way of life."

If "our way of life" is in any way defined by our values and our morals, then I would argue that people like Bruce Anderson surrendered it at the first incoming shot.

Click here for Anderson's column.

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