Torturing Ordinary People 14

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.

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14 thoughts on “Torturing Ordinary People

  • anno

    It is a mystery that Canada participated in this war without having a proper USUKIS media control and abuse denial strategy in place. Did they believe the trash they were told about the reasons for the war? and why do they not have proper systems for covering up abuse? To now, this country, using media censorship, has not permitted a millionth of the abuse that has taken place in Grozny, Iraq and Afghanistan to be published, let alone the blood of the Muslims scholars of India and African slaves in the slave trade. Why has Canada let the cat out of the bag?

  • Talib

    I would like torture Straw man please. Or other guy, guy who stop traffic.

    You see, in my country drone attacks very bad. Very very bad. Under torture, Western officials reveal details future drone attacks. Or whereabouts other officials who know details future drone attacks. And then my cousin’s wedding safe.

    I look long for justification torture in Sacred Texts, in Marx, everywhere. But find nothing. Now, thanks to Western Moral Philosophers, I know torture is God-given right. Thank you, thank you.

    Ticking Bomb — I like it. Haha.

  • Poser

    Another point, albeit a philosophical one about which a consensus is likely, namely, is there justification for the ticking time bomb. If the bomb targets a civilian population (which intersects with my understanding of terrorism), initially it seems totally unjustified, but if that population consciously pushed for the initial grievance that motivated the terrorist? I think there is grounds for discussion here ?” quite obviously being divided by the degree to which ones personal experience of the initial aggression, but interestingly and much to its credit, the religious edict gives protection to the civilians.

  • Drowning by numbers

    I’m sure this must have been covered before, but why is it that Obama has considered and rejected prosecutions in the US for torture on the part of the previous administration but no such prosecutions have been considered in UK for what I would assume are acts accessory to torture by members of the Blair administation?

    Surely the documents you’ve produced indicate that the UK has admitted using the proceeds of torture.

    Whatever about their pragmatic explanations for using these proceeds, what laws UK or international can the UK government and its agents be said to have broken, alleged or otherwise, and aren’t the individuals involved personally responsible for their actions and cannot hide behind institutional guilt?

  • Next stop Hague

    In terms of the offence at International Law where you can be tried at the International Criminal Court, it’s defined as:

    “intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, upon a person in the custody or under the control of the accused…”

    It looks like the reason these detainees were “rendered” was to avoid that “in the custody” aspect of the offence. These people were rendered to countries which are not signatories.

    But surely given the power relations between the US/UK and the puppet regimes to which these victims were rendered, you could easily establish that these torture victims were still under the control of the US and UK.

    Additionally the rendering is evidence that the US and UK were deliberately trying to sidestep the letter of the law. So there’s very strong evidence of intent and premeditation in the actions of the US and UK, to procure torture of those under their control.

  • Roderick Russell


    The recent revelations by whistleblower Richard Colvin, reported by the Toronto Star to be a top intelligence officer at Canada’s embassy in Washington, for the first time accuse the Canadian military of condoning torture in Afghanistan. This serious allegation is a first since all of the many revelations over the last couple of years have accused Canada’s intelligence services (CSIS) and not its military. Nothing ever seems to get solved ?” it is just that now we are spreading the dirt around.

    But then as my own “heavily covered-up” case shows, it is not torture itself that most people are concerned about. It is being on the right side of very fashionable issues. Complaining about some tortures is fashionable (and rightly so) ?” Complaining about other tortures is unfashionable, and not to be countenanced by the human rights industry.

    One doesn’t have to look to Afghanistan to find evidence of the complicity of Canadian Intelligence in torture and of the Canadian Establishment’s moral confusion on Human Rights matters. My case is one example.

    The torture described in my Wiki (click on my signature) is not of the medieval type that leaves marks, but a more modern Orwellian 1984 type of torture that is sometimes called Zerzetsen since it was developed by the former GDR secret police “the Stasi” to persecute dissidents. Zerzetsen is designed to cause INTENSE SUFFERING over a prolonged period. Though MI5/6 and CSIS make every attempt to persuade people otherwise (it is part of their technique to spread disinformation to minimize what they have done), and in this they are capably assisted by organizations such as Amnesty International and The Guardian.

    My experience of torture in Canada, and the role of The Guardian and Amnesty, is outlined in the article “Canada’s Moral Dilemma: Torture by CSIS”

    Nobody more than the human rights industry understands fashion in torture. It’s a question of picking sides. They know on which side their bread is buttered, and they also know what is safe for them? Besides there are no Honours awarded for offending the establishment, and it is bad tactics for funding.

    The Guardian & Amnesty – They know. Criticize anybody else but keep on the right side of the high establishment no matter what. For those contemplating a career in the human rights industry, follow their lead. They know that HYPOCRISY PAYS.

    Roderick Russell

  • writerman

    Torture, on the large scale, isn’t really designed so much to gain useful information; for every ‘tickin’ bomber’ there’s a thousand ‘dumb-arses’ bleeding in chains; no, the real reason for using torture is to terrorise and intimidate the target group involved. The argument that one obtains useful information is false and a sly cover-up, in much the same way that witchtrials revealed credible evidence of the presence of witchcraft and demonic intervention, the first ‘conspiracy theory’?

  • Jaded.

    Al Qaeda as an extremist terrorist group is a complete fiction. The U.S./U.K. alliance is the only terrorist group. However, if you are going to have a ‘War On Terror’ you got to have some ‘terrorists’ to nab. Hence, the torture directed at some poor, innocent civilians. If Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is the 9/11 mastermind, then George Bush is my dad. The TV series 24 did a lot of groundwork in preparing the masses for torture and the noble black President.

    I digress, but i’m sure many folk will remember some of the ramblings made by that muppet/troll/shill creature Jessy/eddie. I’m sure he still frequents this blog like a seriously bad smell under some guise or another. Anyhow, this trip down memory lane is dedicated to you Jessy. Here are some of the posts that tithead made:


    ‘Chris, you claim I am spouting bollocks because I point out that the liquid bomb plotters were convicted and it was possible to make the liquid bombs? You’ve really got to start using your brain here. The fertilizer bomb plotters were also convicted. This is real.’

    ‘If it makes you feel better to think the BBC, the jury and everybody else is lying, then so be it. But don’t be surprised if serious people laugh at you.’

    ‘Why the hell would you not want the security services to stop them trying this and possibly killing many hundreds of people? What type of crazy people are you?’

    ‘Watch this space, Craig. Not that most will know about this – our crazy media laws again – but they are being re-tried on the air plane aspect of the plot at this very moment. I bet you anything they will be convicted too given how strong the evidence is….

    We will know within a couple of weeks. I never said they had been convicted on that part of the plot, but they had been convicted on conspiracy to make explosions with liquid bombs. It’s semantics really; they were planning to blow up something with liquid bombs. That we certainly do know.’

    ‘Of course, if they had waited a few more weeks, as the British wanted, and they’d done it, then we would hear endless drivel about them allowing it to happen just so they could invade another country or something. It’s no win.’

    ‘It should be our job as intelligent people not to fuel absurd conspiracy theories.’ (I think he was on a Dubya fantasy trip when he spewed that one! LMFAO)

    ‘It’s amazing that people will just read someone on a website and take that as fact, even though they haven’t seen anything about the case. Frightening.’


    Just a ‘small’ selection of the manure he has indulged us with… That last gem still has me in stitches! I know you are going to be reading this you ‘prime time tosser’. Go and crawl back in your murky hole and decompose or something. About time you did us all a favour.

  • Jives

    Absolutely spot on Craig.

    The overwhelming majority of people being tortured are entirely innocent.

    And,indeed,the false War On Terror,Inc is a shambolic improvised LIE.

    Hell,they’re even torturing ultra-liberal,atheistic musicians as supposed al-Qaeda members theses last few yeears!The stupid ignorant incompetent cunts.

    But the Truth will out.

    Oh yes it will.

  • George Dutton

    November 24, 2009

    “If Colvin’s career as a diplomat is over, he can still take a page from Murray ‘s post-FO career book. His expose of Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov as one of the world’s most eminent torturers, Murder in Samarkand, is now being made into a feature film. He has been awarded multiple prizes for promoting world peace, ran for parliament against his former boss foreign minister Jack Straw, and is a witty and incisive commentator on the internet, PressTV and elsewhere. He is currently rector of his alma mater the University of Dundee. There is life after the death of diplomatic service. Murray quips, “Being a dissident is quite fun.””…

  • Duncan McFarlane

    writerman wrote “the real reason for using torture is to terrorise and intimidate”

    I agree – US torture was developed in Latin America and lots of CIA and military “trainers” and “rational choice theorists” openly said the aim was to create terror

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