Obviously I feel a great deal of sympathy with Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin. Those of us who reveal connivance by our own governments in gross human rights abuse, find little protection from fleeting media support and interest.
One thing I would underline which Colvin said, as it mirrors precisely my own experience in Uzbekistan:
He said the vast majority of the prisoners were ordinary Afghans, many with no connection to the insurgency
That is the truth about the “War on Terror” torture industry which its proponents refuse to face. The overhwelming majority of those tortured have been innocent. Of course, after torture, they have all confessed their guilt….
The “ticking bomb” scenario is supposed to pose the classical justification of torture. It denies that any action is per se wrong, and posits that inflicting terrible pain on one person is justified if it prevents terrible pain to more numerous others. That is precisely the argument which was being put to me when I was officially informed of the new British government policy of using torture for intelligence:
There were difficult ethical and moral issues involved and at times difficult judgements had to be made weighing one clutch of “moral issues” against another. It was not always easy for people in post (embassies) to see and appreciate the broader picture, eg piecing together intelligence material from different sources in the global fight against terrorism
But the argument relies on a whole number of premisses. They include:
1. That the right person is being tortured and he does indeed have the knowledge to prevent harm.
In fact in the vast, vast majority of the War on Terror torture cases that is not true, as Colvin and I have both testified from actual experience – and as people like Baba Musa testify from beyond the grave – most torture is of the innocent.
2. That the torturer is a benevolent being who genuinely wants to learn the truth in order to prevent harm to others
In fact, in the vast majority of War on Terror torture cases, the torturer is seeking evidence to support a false narrative. In my case, the Uzbek dictatorship was seeking to win increased Western military and financial support by providing a vastly exagerrated narrative of the strength and penetration of Al-Qaida in Central Asia.
3. That there is an imminent threat of which intelligence can be got only from the tortured person
The 139 waterboardings of Mohammed Sheikh Khalid were not in fact aimed at preventing any future imminent threats, but rather at inducing him to confess to masterminding an unbelievably lengthy series of past terrorist atrocities as part of an extraordinary judicial process.
4. That the torturer is in a position to know 3.
In fact, 99% of War on Terror torture is random “Fishing expedition”
5. That the tortured will tell the truth under torture
In fact, as I saw from intelligence reports in Uzbekistan, people will confess to things which are demonstrably false if they think it will make the torture stop. Torture does not get you the truth. It gets you what the torturer wants to hear.
6. That only torture will get them to tell the truth
In fact. the consensus of Western intelligence professionals is that other interrogation methods are much more efficacious.
7. That with and only with knowledge from torture, the torturer will be able to avert the catastrophe
If you believe that, you watch too many Hollywood movies
I could go on. Modern moral philosophers usually identify nine premisses on which the ticking bomb argument depends. For me, there are already prior arguments about human civilisation and barbarity which come before even all of these. But an additional argument is the corrosive moral influence of torture on the body politic, as evidenced by the consistent lies told by New Labour about its pro-torture policy.