Torture: a nudge is as good as a wink

A nudge is as good as a wink to a blind bat, as Monty Python’s Eric Idle once said. And I think I know what he means.

So, when former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf pops up on TV to talk about how as a national leader you need to give the intelligence services “leeway” when they’re interrogating people, it should be clear even to a partially-sighted flying mammal what he’s talking about. He doesn’t use the word torture. He doesn’t need to. It’s as clear as Eric Idle’s heavyweight innuendo (“Is your wife a goer? Etc.)

“We are dealing with vicious people and you have to get information”, Musharraf reportedly says. Does this mean the ends will justify the means when you’re unleashing your interrogators on the detainees? His answer, apparently, is “To an extent yes”. (I like that “to an extent”. This appears to mean that, to an extent they can be tortured. Maybe three fingernails can be pulled out, but not all five).

Given that Pakistan’s notorious Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency has a long record of “disappearing” and torturing people (see this 50-page report from 2008) it’s especially chilling that Musharraf appears so gung-ho about seeking to justify torture.

The issue is especially relevant in the UK context as several UK nationals or former residents (the best-known being Binyam Mohamed) have alleged that they were tortured in Pakistan as Musharraf’s government played it’s all-too-enthusiastic part in the US-led “war on terror”.

Meanwhile, we’re now supposed to be only weeks away from the start of an inquiry into allegations of UK complicity in torture and ill-treatment of detainees held overseas. Amnesty and others have been raising concerns about whether the inquiry is going to be up to scratch.

The inquiry is to be chaired by the retired judge Sir Peter Gibson. In the long-ago era of Monty Python Gibson would doubtless be depicted in any sketch or cartoon as wearing a jet-back City bowler hat (exactly like Terry Jones’ home counties businessman).

I personally don’t mind if Gibson plays up to the old-fashioned stereotype and wears a bowler to chair the inquiry. But I strongly believe he should be picking up on the nudge-nudge defence of torture in Pervez Musharraf’s unpleasant remarks and ensuring that his inquiry is absolutely clear and unambiguous in getting to the truth in this unsavoury, sinister affair.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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