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19 October 2005


brendan stallard


On torture.......I am certain we will disagree on this issue, but I believe that under certain circumstances extracting information from arrested subjects is acceptable.

I would not use torture, but there are drugs available that would get the job done.

I think the "rules of engagement" need to be firmly set and agreed internationally.

But yes, for certain hostage situations I would support enforced information extraction.

Heaven alone knows where that puts me in the pantheon of revility, but I'll live with it if I can save someone.


Tony Hatfield

There may be a confusion in definitions here. Torture must include some element of pain or suffering.The UN Convention on Torture etc defines it as:
"any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."
And that certainly reflects European jurisprudence on the subject.


brendan stallard


So, where do you stand on the issue. If a loved one of yours was kidnapped?

Tony adds:

Of course, I'd want his finger nails ripped out to get at the information. Though there is much evidence to show that the information I would get may be unreliable.
But happily, I would be the last person to ask what to do. The law does not allow torture. end of story.
And of course if we did use it, it would be difficult to complain when, not if, a soldier was captured in Iraq or Afghanistan, suffered the same fate. We would be on the road to hell.


_for certain hostage situations I would support enforced information extraction_

So, if US Marines were captured in Afghanistan, you'd be happy for them to undergo "enforced information extraction" relating to time they may have served at Guantanamo? I'd echo Tony's point: the law does not allow torture. Neither should it. We already have internationally agreed rules of engagement on this. The question, of course, is how to enforce them, and not just for the goose...


There's a further point here, which these thought-experiments always tend to elide, predicated as they are on the worst-case scenario for opponents of torture (good data produced by bad methods). In reality, evidence produced through torture is highly unlikely to be good evidence - both because we know in principle that people will say anything to make it stop, and because we know from experience that most regimes using torture do it primarily to break their prisoners. This matters because there's no way of telling whether you've got good (category-3) data without verifying it - in other words, without provisionally accepting it as good. If it's a matter of sending a couple of chaps down to the docks on the strength of a tipoff which arrived on blood-stained paper, the worst that can happen is that some police time will be wasted. But in practice it's far more likely that the evidence supplied by the unfortunate person being tortured will consist of the names of his contacts and accomplices - in which case verifying the data is likely to involve 28 days in clink for someone who, in all likelihood, hasn't done anything.

As I said when I was debating this with Jarndyce elsewhere, there's an argument from principle against torture, but there's also an argument from practicality: admitting torture evidence is, almost by definition, a good way of getting a lot of innocent collars felt.

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