July 15th, 2004
Before Sept. 11, Western democracies have long upheld the international ban on torture and have criticized other governments that violated that.
However after September 11, that has all changed, but the question is: as a Society are we willing to abide by the rule of law and international agreements regarding human rights, or are we going back to our barbaric past in which such repulsive behaviour was acceptable.
The moral question what we should ask ourselves is, “in case torture would work, do we find these method as a civilized society acceptable”.
After September 11th, there have been accounts in the Washington Post and the Economist which have quoted American officials how presently interrogation methods are being used, they describe beatings and withholding of medical treatment, as well as “stress and duress” techniques, such as sleep deprivation, hooding, and forcing prisoners to hold awkward positions for hours. It is also said that the US have sent alleged terrorists to countries for harsher interrogation techniques.
These interrogations are being conducted, claims the Washington Post, at Bagram air base outside Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, and on Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean, which the United States leases from Britain, putting it beyond the reach of American courts. In addition, officials are quoted as saying that many prisoners have been transferred to the intelligence services of other countries—Jordan, Egypt and Morocco are named—well known for using brutal methods of interrogation.
Like one official put it bluntly, “If you don’t violate someone’s human rights some of the time, you probably aren’t doing your job”.
Some people take the position that these new terrorist treats do justify a limited use of non-lethal torture in extreme cases and propose that judges to able to issue “torture warrants“, as well as that suggestions are being made to use so called truth serums, despite the fact that the effect of the thiopental’ s is doubtful.
These drugs enhance the brain’s sensitivity to a depressant neurotransmitter known as GABA. James Cottrell, the President of the American Society of Anaesthesiologists says that although it makes people talk more, it does not ensure that what these victims say is truthful. I understand the dilemma but I have great difficulty with this as well as the treatment of prisoners on Cuba.
The G.W. Bush administration is in my view on a morally slippery road, however it is not the only subject to which this applies. If we accept that torture is justified in rare cases like is being done in authoritarian regimes, it will erode our system of justice and our moral, as we have seen happening in Israel were torture is being used far more widely then was initially foreseen.
To me, the use of torture in any case totally unacceptable and morally repugnant, it is a further breaking down of our civilized and moral values, once we start on this road it become easy to find excuses for barbaric behaviour. That is not the kind of civilization I was brought up with and will never be able to accept.
To me torture is never justified. It was used during the Algerian revolt against France in the 1950’s, whereby Algerian prisoners were interrogated and summary executions took place. As happened in Argentina under the responsibility of the junta during 1976-1983. What I do know is that the 1963 Supreme Court regarding the legality of such methods of interrogation said that evidence obtained from drugged suspects is inadmissible in American Courts.
Also, the 1950 UN convention states that drugs cannot be used on prisoners of war. It is considered to be a crime against humanity. Also there was a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights on 1978, concerning the treatment of suspected IRA prisoners by the British authorities, which concluded that such practices were inhuman and degrading and therefore in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
To conclude, torture under any circumstances is unacceptable, it brings us as a civilized Society back to the dark ages of mankind, just as I consider capital punishment as an uncivilized and appalling act, a conviction which is also based on moral and ethical grounds.