Bamboo sticks, batons and the Bank Holiday
I was on my way home from a long weekend in Norfolk yesterday when I took a call about torture. Sorry, enhanced interrogation techniques.
Although I’d obviously already heard the shock news about Osama Bin Laden, it was tough to be thinking about torture (let’s call it what it is) after a few days in which the most unpleasant thing I’d had to deal with was going to a craft fair (I’m happy to report that there was no waterboarding there, just little wood-turning).
But it was being claimed that enhanced interrogation techniques, including the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, had led US forces to Osama Bin Laden and Amnesty was being asked for a response.
As the countryside whizzed past (I was in a car on the A11, if you want details) I drafted a quote saying that torture is repugnant, immoral and illegal and can never be justified. I thought about torture in all its twisted forms – beatings with bamboo sticks and batons, electric shocks to the penis, cigarettes being stubbed out on detainees’ bodies etc. Such abuses seemed a world away, but hopefully they always would; even in East Anglia.
Today, I’ve been doing radio interviews on the question of whether torture can ever be justified. I’ve put forward lots of (very good) arguments why it can’t but I fear this may be one of these occasions where the hate figure is so hated, and understandably so, that people will say the end can be said to justify the means.
In my view that’s when it’s most important that we stick to our principles. As countries like Egypt stand on the brink of consigning torture to history, the last thing we should be doing is claiming that it works, or that it is ever morally acceptable. As Amnesty has said so often, to condone torture is to encourage it. Sadly, I’m not sure I won over listeners to BBC WM at 2.40 today, whose emails I was subjected to at the end of my interview. But never mind. I never went into this line of work to be popular, and if all gets too much I could always take up wood-turning.
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