UK and Torture: The Bitter Truth 65

Saloon bar bigot Bruce Anderson came out with a fierce defence of the government’s use of torture. It could have been written by Torquemada, Walsingham or Franco. To get that vital information about the ticking bomb, it would be morally imperative to torture the terrorist’s wife and children, he concluded.

Interesting is it not that to opine that Palestinian suicide bombers are justified is illegal, but to advocate torture of innocent women and children is patriotic?

I took grave exception because I saw the effects of women and children being tortured in front of suspects in Uzbekistan, where it happens pretty often. I wonder if Anderson would like to wield the electrodes on children himself. The man should be shunned from all civilised society.

What he is too thick to understand is that the “ticking bomb” scenario has never happened and almost certainly never will. His idea of the intelligence world is gleaned from Hollywood. I was delighted today to have the oportunity to publish the true situation in the Evening Standard. They gave me 950 words and I think it was the best turned piece I ever penned.

This is the truth of it:

The key point ?” and one I cannot stress too much ?” is that the vast majority of this material was absolute rubbish. The Uzbek government was eager to convince the US it was fighting a massive Islamic militant threat, so that the US government would continue to give large subsidies to this appalling dictatorship, and particularly to its security services.

The Uzbek government therefore rounded up en masse dissidents, the religious and those who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and tortured them into admitting membership of al Qaeda or other allied terror organisations, and into denouncing long lists of other “terrorists”.

The tortured were given the lists to sign up to, exactly as done by Stalin’s secret police, the direct institutional ancestor of the Uzbek security service.

The mundane truth is that torture in the “War on Terror” does not bring Hollywood-style information about ticking bombs in shopping malls.

It brings piles of rubbish that clog up our intelligence analysis. Torture gives not the truth but what the torturer wants to hear to make the torture stop. And given the destinations on the extraordinary rendition circuit ?” like Egypt, Morocco, Afghanistan, Syria and Uzbekistan ?” the relationship between the torturers and the truth was often very distant indeed.

I can swear to you that none of the intelligence I saw from detainees in Uzbekistan was useful. Much of it was palpably untrue, such as referring to terror training camps in places where we knew they physically did not exist.

Please do read the full piece. Not sure if they are going to open comments on this one.

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65 thoughts on “UK and Torture: The Bitter Truth

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  • Clark

    I just can’t believe that the “Ticking Bomb” scenario still gets wheeled out. Haven’t we invented the polygraph? If we’ve really got a suspicion and a suspect, wire him up and drive him round the target area and watch the dials.

  • writerman

    Exactly Craig.

    This Bruce Anderson guy is one of the biggest twits writing in national daily. He’s there for one purpose only, to rile people, to stir things up, and promote “controversy.” It’s pathetic really.

    Why do we torture people? Seemingly, from an objective veiwpoint, it isn’t to gain information that we do not know; rather it’s a practice designed to gain “information” that underlines and supports what we “know” already to be “true”, or what we “sincerely” believe to be true. Torture primarily provides us with infomation that supports our view of the world, what we already “know” to be true about it.

    For example, we “know” that Evil exists, that Satan is real, that his minions are all around us, that witchcraft and witches walk among us; then it’s a short step to finding real “evidence” that “proves” the existance of this invisible, parallel world. Torturing witches, gaining confessions, doesn’t tell us things we don’t “know” already, but it does show that what we “know” is true. Torture becomes a form of self-fulling prophecy or argument, that strengthens our false veiw of the world.

    And this mindset is part of a bigger and more dangerous tendency; a move away from rationality and science, towards the re-birth of faith, superstition, religion, mythology…

    I suppose one can argue that the “irrational” never really went away, what’s different know is that ignorance and stupidity, and the belief in an invisible, supernatural world that’s parallel to the real one, can be found in our political leaders, in Blair for example. Blair who wasn’t subject to the laws of man, but, in the final analysis, only to his maker, who had the right to judge him and look into his soul.

    Of course this is very convenient for the budding despot. One can convince oneself that ones statements and actions are justified and legitimate, and that ones “intentions” are all that matter, not the consequences of ones actions in the real world, because in this kind of tripe metaphysics, the real world doesn’t matter that much, not compared to the invisible world, which whilst it isn’t real, is more true.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Much of Bruce Anderson’s writing in The Independent is underpinned by thinly-veiled racism and bigotry; somewhat laughably (if it wasn’t so serious), he seems to see himself as a sort of swaggering John Bull character. But for from being the Pearly King of the broadsheets, it’s precisely his kind of writing that provides the numinous substrate through which both bourgeois racism/ bigotry and the Masters of War ply their trade.

  • Jives

    Excellent article Craig,many thanks.

    Bruce Anderson is just another bought and paid Useful Idiot for the bullshit artists who contrived the War On Terror,Inc.

    He’s also a despicable,vain,pompous,ignorant psychopath.

  • Jives

    @ Tony op-moc

    Tony…does your name refer to Operation Mockingbird?

    If so,why?

    Mind would explain an awful lot of your often rather strange dissembling posts here…

  • Jon

    @Jives – no, I think it has something to do with “Compo”, the character from Last of the Summer Wine. Read it backwards 🙂

    Tony came out with a couple of great posts recently, but I fear as the hour gets later, and as more is imbibed, the posts become a stream of consciousness that would be great elsewhere. I don’t think the disruption is deliberate, but I do wonder whether Craig should appoint a moderator!

  • Jives

    @ Jon

    Indeed i did previously consider the backwards spelling…but hmmm…

    Dont get me wrong…his posts are often strangely funny-pithy even…but yes…the later it gets…

    But who knows…this is,at times,a strange blog…who knows who the spooks trolls are eh?


  • tony_opmoc

    Well, I’d be amazed if my post appears in the London Evening Standard, yet I was completely sober when I wrote it.

    The only chance is if the moderator, comes back from his Lunch Time Session, and had a Cook-In-Pot and threw up when he read it and pressed the wrong button by mistake.

    Apologies by the way.

    Opmoc stands for compo which was my original internet handle 10 years ago until I kept being banned, and the actor compo who I had never head of dropped dead.


  • pete

    Thanks Craig. “Not everybody is convinced. Lord Goldsmith has called for a public inquiry, and so has the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights.”

    I think a public inquiry into this is long overdue.

  • Jives

    a Public Enquiry eh?

    There’s a scene in The Thick Of It where an errant incompetent Minister is told by an aide there will be a Public Enquiry into his actions…

    The Minister duly falls to the floor almost weeping with relief>

    ” A Public Enquiry?” Yes! Yes ! Oh thank you God! Thank you!”

  • Control


    Agreed. Ticking time bomb is hollywood script material.

    Looking forward to Radio 4 tomorrow.



  • Jives

    Craig….hope you don’t mind me asking..i’m curious though..

    When you were given The Treatment by the powers that be,after you spoke out,did you ever feel that it was tantamount to a form of torture…psychological perhaps?…i don’t mean of the horrific physical type you encountered in Uzbekistan..

  • Vronsky

    The Anderson incident was startling. I don’t think a piece like that would have been published by Volkischer Beobachter. Seriously.

    Intelligence from torture? Writerman nails it terribly well.

  • Tom Welsh

    “MI6’s health and safety people considered the country too dangerous (sorry, James Bond fans)”.

    Is that a prolonged and desperate drumming of the heels that I hear, from the long-dead Ian Fleming?

    You really, really, really could not make this stuff up. What kind of imbeciles are running the UK these days – and why?

  • Craig


    It was a dreadful persecution but I wouldn’t call it torture, not knowing victims of real torture.

  • Freeborn

    Express comments board not going in your favour,Craig.Mind you that’s probably a compliment.

    On the general point of disbelief about our practice of torture-the moronization of the British public seems to have proceeded apace for decades now.How else can we account for their failure to believe that their government could be complicit in torture?

    After several books,a mountain of research,even mainstream coverage confirming that torture was standard practice in Northern Ireland right from the earliest days of the conflict-the British public must be plain stupid to have taken so long to have worked it out.

    The same goes for the Americans.One would have to be woefully ignorant of the US proclivity for torturing its perceived enemies in every war in which they have ever been engaged from the Spanish war in 1898,the ensuing carnage used to suppress civilian uprisings in the Philippines-to Korea and Vietnam you’d have to have lived on Mars all this time to claim you knew nothing about it.

    Wars of aggression and conquest march with the torturers in their ranks.The conquered population has to be subdued by the terror which the conquering nation can demonstrate it has at its disposal.

    I remember hearing a Radio 4 broadcast in which Craig described what he had seen in Uzbekistan,what the UK government knew was going on,and how that government-with the pricipal involvement of Jack Straw-set about relieving Craig of his duties with any manner of black propaganda re-his insanity and procurement of travel documents for local Uzbeks deemed worthy of such favourable treatment.

    Sadly all of this is the tip of a very high and nasty shipping hazard.

    Yes,we do torture.Yes,we had an empire once and other like-minded states have coveted our expertise in this area ever since.

    We’ve been doing torture for as long as we’ve been in denial of the fact.

    These facts would not even be deemed newsworthy were it not for that well recognised trait which all other states deem defining in our case-RANK BRITISH HYPOCRISY to wit!

  • tony_opmoc


    Even 10 years ago, whilst I realised I was a bit mad at times, I had absolutely no idea about British Government complicity in Torture.

    Sure I knew about the IRA painting shit all over their cell walls, but I also knew nothing about the real history of Ireland.

    I had had my education, and my brothers joined the TA, and they said to them if a bloke comes up to you with an Irish accent – and says – can you give me your gun mate, then don’t give it to him cos he might be a Terrorist.

    But most of my life, I was as completely naive as the great mass of the great unwashed and even the washed who went to Eton.

    Then, I started to read books.

    Of course I had read books before – but they were nearly always Technical Books, just so that I could remain employed and learn and earn sufficient money to bring up my kids.

    I had no time to find out about the world as it really is.

    I had no idea that such evil exists in the highest places of Government.

    I was outraged when our Government was bombing Yugoslavia to shit 10 years ago, but I still didn’t understand and believed the official story, that bombing them to shit was good for them.

    Sure I went to see plays like Animal Farm done brilliantly live on stage, but I thought it was about another society in another age.

    I saw the film 1984 last night for the first time.

    The torture scenes were very hard to take.


  • Stephen

    Thanks Craig, you write:

    “The key point ?” and one I cannot stress too much ?” is that the vast majority of this material was absolute rubbish”

    There remains the question of whether you would support torture in the case where it produces not rubbish but something more reliable. Would you? And if not, why not?

    When you present the case as you have, that is, in what I would call a prudential argument, concluding that it does not serve any interest of our own to torture, you seem to shy away from an argument from a perspective of a fundamental principle of human rights.

    It may be that the prudential is the stronger case. But wouldn’t it be better to offer both?

    I’m sure you don’t support torture in either case, but what would be your basic reason for opposing it if, let’s say, it produced truth, even in one of these ridiculous ticking bomb scenarios.

    Come to think of it, consistent would be a position which supports Anderson’s conclusions in his hypothetical case but rejects torture in practice because such a case never holds. But I digress.

    I will offer a possible answer to my own question. It may be that the arguments of principle and those of practice, once suitably refined as to address all available objections, actually collapse into one another. For example, there can be no reason in principle to torture if we know in practice that the probability that the information obtained is reliable, combined with its usefulness if it is, does not outweigh the probability that an innocent person may be tortured combined with the great damaged caused both to the tortured individual and to the common good of all to be free from these very terrors which the state, in this case, would visit upon us. Sorry for such a ridiculously long sentence. Probably best to ignore it. Sorry.

    I’d still like to know your answer though.

    Best Wishes,


  • tony_opmoc

    Before I had even seen Craig’s article today I wrote the following on Alternet this morning. Its an American website that gets over 50,000 visitors a day.

    I guess I am trying to apologise to Larry for writing a complete load of uninhibited bollocks (nearly all of which is true by the way) on Wednesday night. And a Policeman did turn up at our door on Thursday Morning. No – I don’t think any of our neighbours reported a lunatic dancing in the garden at 3:30am on Thursday Morning. They Know I am mad – and the Burglars Fuck Off Elsewhere. The Policeman was our local copper and just checking that everything was OK

    So this is what I wrote on Alternet – I wrote more later after I had read Craig’s article.

    Sorry, I just don’t understand why more people aren’t as totally outraged as I am.

    “For a good representation of where Cheney has taken America to check out the film 1984. I watched it last night. It was made in 1984. George Orwell wrote it about 40 years before. He got it right, just his timing was a bit out.

    It shows a graphic representation of Torture and the Oppression of a Totally Fascist State.

    In the UK, virtually everyone, even the politicians complicit in torture, are totally opposed to it. The politicians lie and hold their heads in shame as they await the inevitable prosecutions that are getting much closer.

    In the US, the last opinion poll I saw, showed that 52% of Americans were in Favour of Torture.

    That’s all you need to know to demonstrate how Brainwashed Americans are.

    You are living in 1984. It maybe 2010, and you haven’t realised it yet.

    The majority of you are back in the dark ages.

    Yours, Disgusted,


    Report This Comment


    2010-02-19 05:17:40”

  • Vronsky

    I share Stephen’s unease – would we condone torture if we found it to be effective? Having looked at the comments against the original Independent article, I think the practical morality of the situation was best captured by the poster who said that a society that is willing to defend itself by such means is not worth defending. Let the bomb tick, let it explode.

  • KingofWelshNoir

    I’ll never forget walking through the Tuol Sleng school in Phnom Penh where the Khmer Rouge tortured their prisoners to death. There was the photo of an Australian backpacker on the wall among all the Asiatic faces, along with his ‘confession’ in which he owned up to being a member of the CIA, MI6, KGB and goodness knows what else beside. Poor bastard.

  • tony_opmoc


    Whilst I didn’t use the powerful version on Wednesday Night

    I have got an incredible laser machine

    I have not yet had much success with the smoke machine, and got rather annoyed when my wife started feeding her plants with the contents of a large flagon of fluid specifically designed for the smoke machine, which could have had a bigger label.

    Whilst the plants in her window box are dead, most of the fluid is still in my shed.

    You see, I am trying to tame things down

    We used to do this stuff with rather powerful explosives (commonly called fireworks) Yes we have had our local Conservative Councillor Knocking on Our Door at 1:00 am on New Years Day Saying You Can’t Do That

    So, we thought we would do it a different way.

    Its all completely legal and much quieter

    But the idea is to



  • glenn

    Bruce Anderson (whose articles I never read) is getting slammed in the letters page of The Independent. It doesn’t appear that Independent readers care much for this sort of apologia for torture, neither is it in line with the general political stance of the paper itself, so it’s quite amazing to see articles like this printed. The Indy has some odd writers – the Blair apologist Rentoul, the “you’re-all-antisemites” correspondent Jacobson, and now this half-wit Anderson dragging the paper down.

    While on the continent a month or so back, a British guy was holding forth on the xmas day Undies-bomber, telling his sceptical listeners (all continentals) that he should be brutally tortured without delay. I couldn’t let the impression that all Brits were pro-torture go down, and so challenged him on it. The Stasi gave up torture because they knew it produced rubbish. We got far more out of Nazi war criminals with chess and ping-pong than “harsh interrogation methods”. It’s illegal under International Law. People will say anything to make it stop, that the FBI got Al-qaeda suspects talking with intelligent questioning and considerate behaviour, but the suspect clammed up again when the CIA thugs started their torture tactics. Naturally, it was a waste of time. The half-witted Brit suddenly found himself interested in the football instead, and waved away my statements rather than counter them.

    There’s no convincing pro-torture types who think they’re being tough n’ hard. Not facts, not evidence, not reference to what’s actually worked, not the law, nor an appeal to any form of basic decency. I think it’s a blood-lust, a cruel streak and maybe a desire for revenge – or to terrorise those who might dare oppose us (the West).

    A liking for torture, and enjoying witnessing it, is nothing new. Crowds used to gather to watch scenes of utter barbarity carried out by the Church or the law throughout the middle ages. Nothing could be better than watching a person being broken on the wheel, and if it was a woman being tortured, all the better. And if it was two or three women, all the better still.

    The torture advocates and their torture apologists are throwbacks, they would be watching with awe and rapt attention just like their dark-age counterparts, delighted at the spectacle themselves, if they had the chance.

  • Vronsky


    Go for it, Tony. What colour are we getting? I’m up in Scotland, and we’d be ever so grateful if you plumped for something unusual like – uh – blue.

  • KingofWelshNoir

    Ted Hughes wrote a poem once about a debate in the House of Commons in the 19th century in which it was proposed to outlaw the cat-of-nine-tails in the Royal Navy. The various Bruce Andersons of the day were outraged, claiming it would be tantamount to handing out brandy and cigars to the sailors. Then a real ‘cat’, stained with flakes of blood, was brought in and passed round the chamber. After which they all meekly voted it through without a word. Says it all.

  • technicolour

    glenn, next time maybe point and scream “aargh! psycho!”.

    thanks for the lovely image of getting “far more out of Nazi war criminals with chess and ping-pong”.

    and thanks Tony, interesting couple of posts – the first reminded me of a German film called ‘The Nasty Girl’; about a school girl who finds out what her leafy, happy German town did during the Third Reich.

    Incidentally, since you raised it again a while back, I was in the NWFP and Afghanistan with an NGO, so I had some protection.

  • Anonymous

    Five people were arrested this week for organising an Anti-Muslim march on Facebook in Treherbert, a small village in the Rhondda, where I frequently stay when I go to see my children in Wales. There are only three Muslim families in the village, but they are hoping to link up with an Afghan village soon and hold a similar anti-Welsh event.

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