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04 January 2006

Comments

BrianB

For once, Tony, I find myself in almost total disagreement with you. I can find no evidence, in all the reams of stuff all over dozens of blogs, that the British government is any less committed to total condemnation of torture than it has ever been, and I don't accept (as you know from my own blog and other writings) that our government is 'involved in' rendition or 'involved with' the Uzbek gangster regime, any more than we are 'involved with' numerous disgusting regimes around the world by having diplomatic relations with them. It seems to me unfair and misleading to tag the British government as equally culpable with the Americans in the various deeply objectionable activities that you catalogue. And, as you also know (and disagree about), it seems to me obvious that there is absolutely no ethical equation between on the one hand following up information which may originally have been got by torture to see if it sheds light on (e.g.) investigations of terrorist activity, or other areas of national interest, and on the other hand being complicit in any way with the infliction of torture. They are two entirely different things. On the available evidence, it even seems highly unlikely that the former has any effect whatever on the prevalence of the latter. And, finally, after reading a lot of blogging on this subject pretty intensively over the past few days, I am convinced that what we need in the debate is a lot less moral outrage, not more. There's something about the pornography of torture that attracts the congenitally morally outraged like vultures to corpses; perhaps its sexual undertones. Gloating descriptions of gruesome tortures demonstrate nothing that we don't already know: no-one, so far as I know, is arguing that torture is actually quite nice, or no worse than various other kinds of treatment that we take for granted, or in any way acceptable. Personally, I wouldn't even seek to justify torture even in the famous (and highly improbable) 'ticking bomb' scenario, or indeed any other, although I know that some people would. Working the debate up into a lather of outrage does nothing to promote rational discussion of important and complex moral issues. And the greater the moral outrage, the greater the temptation to resort to vilification of those who take a different view (take a look at some of the comments on my own post on the subject!). But I fear that we'll just have to agree to disagree on all these matters.

Brian
http://www.barder.com/ephems/

Richard

"What we need is a lot less moral outrage, not more..."

What we need less of, Brian, is the naive acceptance, on blind faith, of what our government and security services are telling us. You can shut your eyes to the evidence of UK complicity in (amongst other things) extraordinary rendition if you like, but that won't make it go away. There would be "a bit less moral outrage" if there was a bit less torture, corruption, and lying going on.

richard

Brian,

Are these people all naive conspiracy theorists too?

http://www.stopwar.org.uk/Bennletter.htm

Tony Benn
Mrs Rose Gentle MFSO mum of Gordon Gentle killed in Iraq 28:7:04
Reg Keys
Harold Pinter
Prof. Richard Dawkins
Bruce Kent
Lindsey German, Convenor Stop The War Coalition
Michael Mansfield QC
Corin Redgrave
Jemma Redgrave
Andrew Burgin
Mark Steel
Brian Sewell, Columnist on the London "Evening Standard"
Professor Ted Honderich
Dr Martha Mundy, Reader in Anthropology, LSE
David Halpin FRCS
Sara Wood
Nicholas Wood RIBA FRGS
Andreas Whittam Smith
Lord Nicolas Rea
Hywel Williams, MP for Caernarfon
Peter Day
Anabella Pellens
Nicolas Kent, Theatre Director
Alan Plater
Jonathan Price
Willy Russell, Writer
Ralph Steadman
Anna Steadman
Dr C.J. Burns-Cox, Consultant Physician MD FRCP
Michael Naish
Richard Gott
Celia Mitchell
Adrian Mitchell
Una Doyle, NUT
Geoff Evans Bsc Hons Dip LP
Dr Margaret Evans PhD BSc Hons
David Levitt
David Gentleman, Artist
Julian Rea
Sylvester McCoy
Alex Salmond MP, Leader SNP

Backword Dave

I'm afraid that, to my surprise, I entirely agree with Brian when he says "I can find no evidence, in all the reams of stuff all over dozens of blogs, that the British government is any less committed to total condemnation of torture than it has ever been" and "no-one, so far as I know, is arguing that torture is actually quite nice, or no worse than various other kinds of treatment that we take for granted, or in any way acceptable." I don't think there is anyone sane who argues that *torture* is acceptable and not repellent. The problem starts with people like US broadcaster Rush Limbaugh, to give one unrepentant example. He's against torure: he just doesn't recognise menacing naked suspects with guard dogs, near-drowning, sleep deprivation, or indeed hooding people and piling them in pyramids are torture. So he's not against those things. He is against torture, if he ever sees any.

Tony Hatfield

Brian
You say"
There's something about the pornography of torture that attracts the congenitally morally outraged like vultures to corpses; perhaps its sexual undertones. Gloating descriptions of gruesome tortures demonstrate nothing that we don't already know: no-one, so far as I know, is arguing that torture is actually quite nice, or no worse than various other kinds of treatment that we take for granted, or in any way acceptable"
I do hope you don't think members of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the European Parliament and even those who post and/or comment here are interested in this aspect of torture. This aspect had not occurred to me until you raised it!
t

Richard

Britain remains fully committed to condemning torture. The problem is that at the same time we are actively and knowingly complicit in torture!

1. “An Ethiopian student who lived in London claims that he was brutally tortured with the involvement of British and US intelligence agencies.

Binyam Mohammed, 27, says he spent nearly three years in the CIA’s network of ‘black sites’. In Morocco he claims he underwent the strappado torture of being hung for hours from his wrists, and scalpel cuts to his chest and penis and that a CIA officer was a regular interrogator.

After his capture in Pakistan, Mohammed says British officials warned him that he would be sent to a country where torture was used. Moroccans also asked him detailed questions about his seven years in London, which his lawyers believe came from British sources.”
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,1664612,00.html

If these claims are true, then we’ve been actively participating in rendition, in the full knowledge that torture was going to be used. That would make us criminally complicit.

Then there’s more here:

2. “MI6 officers interrogated a former UK student in Pakistan, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said yesterday. The man, a terrorist suspect, says MI6 handed him to the CIA for “extraordinary rendition” and torture.

The allegations by Binyam Mohammed el-Habashi, 27, in which he details the abuse, sleep deprivation and torture inflicted on him, were previously uncorroborated, but Mr Straw admitted for the first time that at least part of his story was true.”
http://www.craigmurray.co.uk/archives/2005/12/rendition_victi.html

I take Brian's point about the distastefulness of going into lurid detail but I think this is partly a reaction to the insistence of the pro-torture campaigners of hiding behind euphemisms like "robust interrogation", together with the outright denials from people who think that all we (the "Coalition") have been doing is putting hoods on people's heads and taking their clothes off (see http://www.craigmurray.co.uk/archives/2006/01/new_years_greet.html).

It's sad that Brian seems to feel there's something wrong with people who are shamed, angered and disgusted by the grim realities of torture. I think, unfortunately, that we do need to spell out exactly what torture means.

I think these details are relevant, too, because they show just how disgusting and depraved human beings can become once we start to change the "rules of the game".

The word "torture" does not come close to capturing the horrific reality of it. Some of the descriptions Craig has given do, I believe, begin to. And I don't think we can get people to stand up against this creeping acceptance of torture unless we make it clear that it's not just about pouring water over people's heads and playing Eminem music at them.

So I will not be resorting to self-censorship, or the kind of euphemistic language that, frankly, seem far more disgusting that stating, simply, what exactly our government has been instigating and encouraging.

Phil

As I've commented elsewhere*, I think both sides of the argument (Brian's and Craig Murray's) are flawed. Brian represents the question of Uzbek intelligence in terms of "following up information which may originally have been got by torture", which suggests (if only by omission) that the Uzbek intelligence services are holding people comparable with the suspects formerly held in Belmarsh, and that what they're doing to them involves the extraction of information. Both of these premises, if we believe Murray (and I've yet to see any good reason why not), are mistaken: the Uzbek government's thugs are holding political opponents because they're political opponents, they're torturing them because that's what they do to political opponents, and they're forcing them to come up with Al Qaida-related 'intelligence' because that's how they can justify using torture to the Americans. On the other hand, Murray's at fault in not stating more clearly that he's specifically talking about the 'intelligence' - worthless pretty much by definition - produced by regimes which routinely torture people whether they've got any information to reveal or not. There may be governments which use torture solely to apply pressure on suspects who they have reasonable grounds to suspect are holding out on them; that would still be vile and reprehensible, but would bring into play Brian's (and Owen's) fine distinctions about the (potentially useful) information which might (or might not) have been produced by such means. The Uzbek situation really doesn't, as far as I can tell - and I don't think an appeal to the authority of (say) Elizabeth Manningham-Buller trumps Murray in this respect.

*http://existingactually.blogspot.com/2006/01/silence-and-screams.html

BrianB

My views are so comprehensively misrepresented in so many of the preceding comments that it becomes more risible than irritating. What's more, the misrepresentations don't arise from misunderstandings of anything I have written, here or anywhere else. I may not always make myself as clear as some would like, but that can't explain or excuse some of the garbage in this thread: much of it is sheer invention for the sake of that good old moral outrage that everyone is apparently so keen on. Well, if it makes you guys feel better...

Oh, and I do wonder why that list of signatories to the Benn letter from the Stop the War stable is addressed to me, with an enquiry about whether I think they are all naive conspiracy theorists "too". The letter and its voluminous attachments are exclusively about the Iraq war, and have nothing whatever to do with the subject of this post and comments, i.e. torture (or TORTURE, as Tony's original post has it). I would have no difficulty in signing it myself, apart frome slight discomfort at some of the bedfellows I'd be signing with. And do relish that sly "too", with its malignant suggestion that I have accused some unidentified but saintly (and morally outraged) group of being naive conspiracy theorists, and by extension similarly accused all the virtuous characters who have signed the Benn letter into the bargain! There's a word for that mode of argument: it's called a smear, the technique beloved of the late Senator Joe McCarthy.

It would be nice, don't you think?, if some bloggers could express disagreement with other bloggers without falsely accusing them of holding opinions which they don't hold and have never expressed, just so as to be able to lampoon them with lashings of moral outrage. Yuk.

Brian

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