Or in other words, who is torturing who?
About a month ago, my attention was caught by an article on the BBC news website, called “Binyam blames UK for mistreatment”. This article was, as its title suggest, about the accusations made by Binyam Mohamed against the British government for collaborating on torture. The accusations made are very serious and this got me thinking once again on the question of torture. Who uses torture? Who does so openly and who does so very secretively? Is it really as taboo as we think it is?
It is common knowledge that the US government uses torture to extract knowledge from people, in the interest of its territorial security. We all remember the scandal caused by the pictures from Abu Grhaib, and people continue to protest against Guantanamo bay every day. However, all European countries have a very strong rhetoric on torture and as the EU website tells us they are “firmly committed to upholding the absolute prohibition of torture”. But Binyam Mohamed’s accusations seem to contradict this, since he is implying that it was the MI5 that made suggestions to the CSI on how to “get him to respond” and that due to MI5’s collaboration in the process, he ended up in Morocco where he was tortured. Moreover, another article on the BBC news website dating as far back as 2004, already mentions the UK’s acceptance of evidence obtained under torture, so long as they had not taken part in the act. Both of these articles makes one wonder on the true support of the UK (and possibly other European countries too) for the case against torture. How can one be outspokenly against torture and yet accept evidence obtained by these methods?
The real question that I have been asking myself is this: do these countries actually prohibit torture, or do they allow it through secretive methods? For example, can we really believe that security agents will be able to obtain top secret information regarding possible terrorist attacks, or other events that may put national security in danger, without torturing their suspects? What suspect would willingly give up such confidential information? And can one really rely on infiltration, under cover agents and moles? I am not saying I believe in torture, I am simply asking whether it is possible to obtain such crucial and secret information by normal methods of interrogation, or whether some countries do resort to the use of torture without admitting to it.
TV shows 24 (American) and Spooks (British), both seem to show an approval of torture. Of course, in the case of Jack Bauer this is to be expected as the program could not be more American (and yet we love it), but in the case of Spooks this came as a bit of a surprise to me. Isn’t this the wrong message to be sending? In my opinion, whether it be promoting torture through a TV show, accepting evidence obtained through torture, or sending detainees to another country to be tortured, all are wrong and all show an acceptance of torture despite a supposed mobilization against it. Another article from the Guardian dating from April 2009 also mentions 29 UK torture cases in which “suspects were tortured with the complicity of MI5 and MI6 officers”. This only strengthens the case against the UK and its acceptance of the use of torture. I find it interesting that European countries can be so self-righteous about having the moral high ground, and applying Human Rights, and are first to point the finger at countries such as Syria, Lybia, or Pakistan; yet we later find out that they have sent suspects there for interrogation. And even though President Obama may be trying to change the tune set by the previous administration, this does not necessarily mean that this is the end of Guantanamo, as is pointed out by the Economist in their latest article.
So what is to be expected from these countries? Will Obama really put an end to torture (but keep a few detainees on the side) and lead the way for a new world order where torture is not necessary? Or will torture continue to exist secretively and be denied by the parties involved? Can we really believe that they can obtain the information they need to protect our countries without torture? Can we believe that they are not sending detainees abroad in order to wash their hands of the act yet obtain vital facts? Really, these are the most important questions we must ask ourselves. We must continue to probe into the depths of this problem and make sure that these countries are held accountable. And even though I have made the UK my case in point here, we must also be able to ask ourselves these questions about other countries who are meant to be against torture but might be collaborating for security purposes. After all, we are all aware that the political climate post 9/11 has changed, but what are the direct consequences of this, and more particularly concerning torture?
If you are a interested in supporting the Human Rights cause you can join various NGOs and support their actions, the most important being Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. For more information they also have some very interesting reports on torture you can read.