Friday, December 09, 2005

But it works all right in ‘24’

From the Daily Telegraph (UK):

Torture is not acceptable, seven law lords agreed yesterday as Britain's highest court unanimously allowed an appeal on behalf of 10 suspected terrorists who were detained in the months after September 11.

They challenged their detention on the grounds that evidence against them might have been obtained by torture, carried out abroad by agents of a foreign state.

Lord Bingham said English common law had "regarded torture and its fruits with abhorrence for over 500 years, and that abhorrence is now shared by over 140 countries which have acceded to the Torture Convention".

As a result of yesterday's ruling, the cases of suspects still in detention will have to be reconsidered by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), the anti-terrorist court that hears evidence in the applicant's absence.

Lord Hope said that all a detainee needed to do would be to "point to the fact that the information which is to be used against him may have come from one of the many countries around the world that are alleged to practise torture" - an "easy" test.

If SIAC had reasonable grounds for suspecting that torture has been used in that case, he added, it would have to investigate the facts.

Human rights organisations said this would be sufficient to stop the Government relying on information obtained from states that use torture.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, said the judgment would have no bearing on the Government's efforts to combat terrorism.

"The majority of their lordships have ruled that evidence should be admitted to SIAC hearings unless those acting for terrorism suspects can establish - on the balance of probabilities - that the evidence was obtained by torture," he said.

As much as I accept that extraordinary threats call for extraordinary measures, this seems to me a sensible ruling. The authorities will not ignore this kind of information when it comes to responding to security threats, but will investigate its source for individual prosecutions.

Besides the moral repugnance of the practice, it is well established that torture is the best way of quickly obtaining false confessions and misinformation.


Blogger Oroborous said...


However, at least as practiced by U.S. intel services, it's not so much torture as it is concentrated misery.

The point isn't to apply so much agony to someone that they say the first thing that comes to mind, it's to gradually disrupt them physically, psychologically, and emotionally, so that they forget why they were determined not to talk, and are just grateful for a hot meal and eight hours of rack time.

It's like the U.S. Navy's BUD/S course for Seals, where you can quit anytime and stop the stress, only in this case "quitting" means giving up some actionable info.

December 09, 2005 5:08 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Then it's a damn fine line, that's all I'll say.

Isn't the object of using torture for information to make the suspect sufficiently physically or mentally uncomfortable that they prefer to talk than to continue in the discomfort?

December 09, 2005 6:41 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Concentrated misery, eh? Yes, that sounds a lot better.

The information obtained through torture can be used for two purposes: as intel to be used to catch other terrorists, or to extract a confession to be used in a trial.

I'd have to say that the latter should be barred by any respectable government on the planet. As to the former, only certain techniques should be permitted. Temporary misery is one thing, excruciating pain, bodily injury and extreme psychological trauma leading to permanent damage is another.

I have two practical concerns, beyond the basic inhumanity of torture. One is the reliability of the information obtained, which has been already discussed. The second is the corrupting effect torture has on the torturer. Such corruption not only degrades the individual, but makes him unreliable in the performance of his duties. It is hard to be an objective observer if you are getting a high from inflicting pain on another.

December 09, 2005 8:16 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Torture breaks the subject's resistance to speaking, but not necessarily his resistance to giving up info.

Therefore, you get a lot of rubbish, along with gold.

The point of continued discomfort is that it DOESN'T break the subject's resistance to speaking - it's fairly easy to endure the discomfort as long as he's committed to silence.

However, it gradually erodes the will to continue not giving up info, and then when they decide that it's just not worth it anymore, or they convince themselves that it doesn't matter anymore, you get the good stuff.

The key is that they aren't being forced to talk, they're being brainwashed into believing that their former life is irrelevant, or "deprogrammed", if you prefer.

December 09, 2005 10:04 AM  
Blogger David said...

I'm skeptical that the common law has abjured torture since before 1505. Certainly if torture includes punishments that's false as drawing and quartering (live disembowelment) survived into the 19th century.

December 09, 2005 3:02 PM  

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