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After much agonising - The Ex-Communicator

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February 17th, 2010


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03:54 pm - After much agonising
Bruce Anderson, former political editor of The Spectator, argues in the Independent that torture is a regrettable necessity.
Torturers set out to break their victim: to take a human being and reduce him to a whimpering wreck.

There's something off in the way he expresses this. It would be a bit cheesy, even if he was then going on to denounce torture.
Before 9/11, in front of some serious lawyers, I once argued that if there were a ticking bomb, the Government would not only have a right to use torture. It would have a duty to use torture. Up sprang Sydney Kentridge, one of the great liberals of our age... (with) 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...

The Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuburger... wrapped himself in a cloak of self-righteousness, traduced an entire security service, showed no understanding of the courage which its officers routinely display: no understanding, indeed, of anything beyond courtroom niceties.There is a threat not only to individual lives, which is of minor importance, but to our way of life and our civilisation.

Lots of thoughts come to mind. I decided to quote him at length instead of commenting as I think his own words damn him more fully than anything I could add.

The comments to Independent articles are managed by livejournal, for this article you can read them here. I think the general feeling is against him: 'This is a truly repugnant piece of writing', 'I can't believe I read this in the Independent'.

(18 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:andrewducker
Date:February 17th, 2010 04:12 pm (UTC)
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He seems not to have grasped that "our way of life" includes "not torturing people", as does "civilisation".
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From:communicator
Date:February 17th, 2010 04:34 pm (UTC)
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Yes. It's not the objects in the National Gallery that define us.
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From:ninebelow
Date:February 17th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC)
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I didn't realise Anderson was the former editor of the Spectator, I just thought he was the Independent's pet right wing fool. Makes sense.
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From:communicator
Date:February 17th, 2010 04:34 pm (UTC)
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I see his wikipedia entry is now dominated by this article

ETA - this morning wikipedia says 'former political editor' of the Spectator, so that will teach me to use it as a source

Edited at 2010-02-18 10:32 am (UTC)
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From:hafren
Date:February 17th, 2010 04:30 pm (UTC)
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Quite apart from the morals, there is the awkward fact that people in pain tell you whatever they think you want to hear. This and the truth may well be two different things.
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From:communicator
Date:February 17th, 2010 04:36 pm (UTC)
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I could not resist replying to one of the twits who posted to say 'It has never been proved that torture produces false confessions' with one of your sayings - 'It has been proved, unless you think women in the olden days really could fly about on broomsticks'
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From:del_c
Date:February 17th, 2010 06:01 pm (UTC)
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It ought to be easy to argue that torture is both useless AND wrong, but it turns out to be really hard. It ends up as a game of whack-a-mole: you say useless, they say you're admitting it's not evil; you say evil, they say but it's so useful we have to!

Aside from the problem of torture not working even when it "works" (you get told things you still don't know are true), there's also the problem that the ticking clock scenario is so carefully balanced you'll never encounter it in real life. We would have to have specially certain knowledge of the existence of the bomb, the population of its victims, and the precise moment the clock ticks down. Plus, we have the sure and certain knowledge that our prisoner knows exactly how we can stop the atrocity, and that there is no other way to get that knowledge. This is all a curious collection of certain facts to have, and yet not already know the location. In real life, you don't even know there's a bomb. In real life there never has been: every instance of torture in history has been unnecessary.

[aside: it's so depressing to think that, from a childhood of knowing who the bad guys on television were, because they were the ones torturing prisoners, I now live in a world where I find myself in actual electronic correspondence with eager torturers]

I reckon the answer to the ticking bomb dilemma, as described, is easy. Torture the prisoner, save the planet, and spend the rest of your life in prison knowing you saved a billion people's lives. My torturer correspondents don't have that much courage apparently. They'd let a billion people die if saving them meant prosecution.
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From:communicator
Date:February 17th, 2010 06:12 pm (UTC)
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Yes, absolutely. Vicious and cowardly.
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From:executrix
Date:February 17th, 2010 04:39 pm (UTC)
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On the other hand, quite a lot of people became saints by refusing, under all circumstances, to "confess" that Jupiter was the supreme god in the pantheon. I think that a lot of people simply assume that terrorists are Bad People, and Bad People are Cowards, so they can easily be induced to confess.

There's an episode of Homicide where Detective Pembleton, who is a brilliant interrogator, gets a confession from someone he knows is innocent just to prove he can do it.
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From:communicator
Date:February 17th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
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This is true. Our culture is in a way based on the ineffectiveness of torture:

...upon which Latimer said calling out from the fire, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley... We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."

I dearly love any episode about Pembleton's interrogations. I must go back to Homicide. I bought the book the other day.
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From:katlinel
Date:February 17th, 2010 04:44 pm (UTC)
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If he genuinely believes that, he is unutterably vile. If he's writing it to stir it up, then he's also vile.
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From:communicator
Date:February 17th, 2010 04:47 pm (UTC)
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I think it is even worse. I think the thought of torture thrills him, and the rest is built up from there. That's a bad accusation but that's how it looks to me.
From:huskyscotsman
Date:February 17th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
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This kind of smooth reasonable-sounding stuff really annoys me:

Although we find torture repulsive, it does not follow that those who are tasked with governing Pakistan could safely dispense with it. [...] Their difficulties are at least as great as those faced by Francis Walsingham and Robert Cecil in the 1590s. Can we blame the Pakistanis for employing some 1590s methods?

We should also be grateful to the Americans. But we should insist, again in private, that if they did torture suspects, they were wrong to do so. As they are in a stronger position than Pakistan, their interrogation doctrine should be strongly post-Walsingham.

This takes it as axiomatic that desperate times call for desperate measures. But that assumption is worth questioning. There are other examples from history of people who did not respond to a weak position with extreme violence. I'm thinking Gandhi and Mandela for a start. (Probably many more who were summarily slaughtered, of course.)

Rather than invoking the spirit of Jack Bauer, I wish people would talk about real examples of defeating terrorism. I think the Major and Blair governments' handling of Northern Ireland is a great model: swallow your pride and bargain with them, secretly if need be. (Probably the best thing either of those governments ever did.) Progress in NI is incredibly slow and tedious, but things seem infinitely better there now than during Thatcher's hardline approach in the 80s.
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From:communicator
Date:February 17th, 2010 11:57 pm (UTC)
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Northern Ireland is a very good example. I don't know whether the Allies utilised torture during the 2nd World War. I've always believed that we didn't. I don't think it's an effective way to win.
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From:hawkeye7
Date:February 18th, 2010 01:24 am (UTC)
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There were numerous allegations of torture at the notorious "London Cage", a MI19 prisoner of war facility in the UK during and immediately after WWII. The Americans extracted confessions from the perpetrators of the Malmedy massacre using torture.
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From:communicator
Date:February 18th, 2010 01:40 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the reference. I have just been reading a bit about the Malmedy interrogations, and it sounds like a big mess. However, I think the point stands that it is possible to wage a war against a formidable enemy, with all to lose, without resort to torture.
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From:iainjcoleman
Date:February 17th, 2010 10:33 pm (UTC)
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I imagine he and his ilk write this stuff one-handed.
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From:communicator
Date:February 17th, 2010 11:59 pm (UTC)
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Yes, I do get that impression. It's like someone writing 'Imagine someone infected with a deadly virus, which would kill millions. I would be simply forced to wrap him in clingfilm' (or whatever) and you think 'uh-huh'.

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