When is Torture not Torture?
Over the past few years the moral relativism of western governments has been increasingly exposed. Torture, once outlawed as an absolutely unacceptable crime, is returning under the sanitised names of ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’, and ‘Extraordinary Rendition’. In some cases, western intelligence agencies do it themselves (in 2005, ABC news reported that the CIA uses several of these ‘techniques’). In other instances, it is outsourced to client states in the Middle East or Eastern Europe, or takes place in extra-judicial locations such as Diego Garcia and Guantanomo Bay.
A legal storm of Watergate proportions is currently brewing in Washington, , over who knew of the decision to destroy video tapes of CIA operatives apparently torturing suspected al-Qaeda members in 2005. In November 2005, the CIA destroyed the tapes which purported to show the ‘waterboarding’ of prisoners despite orders from a District Court judge that the government preserve "all evidence and information regarding the torture, mistreatment, and abuse of detainees now at Guantanomo Bay". Waterboarding is a form of torture that consists of immobilising a person on their back, with the head inclined downward, and pouring water over the face and into the breathing passages. Through forced suffocation and inhalation of water, the subject experiences the process of drowning and is made to believe that death is imminent. It has been used in various guises as far back as the Spanish inquisition.
The legal shenanigans over who new what and who authorised the destruction of the tapes is conveniently deflecting attention from the main issue at stake which is that the US sanctions the torture of detainees despite its own acceptance of the UN Convention Against Torture which explicitly prohibits torture under any condition, and under which there exists no legal exception whatsoever. The treaty states ‘no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.’ It is unsurprising but sadly typical that the ‘so-called’ freedom loving governments of Europe and Australia, as well as the political establishment in the USA, have not made more noise about this matter.
A New York Times report this past week said the involvement of senior White House lawyers, including David Addington, chief of staff for vice President Dick Cheney, participated in the decision to destroy the tapes and showed that White House officials were more extensively involved than the Bush administration has acknowledged. Bush and Cheney of course deny they know anything. But in a radio interview on October 24, 2006, with Scott Hennen of radio station WDAY, Cheney gave his own views.
Hennen: "… and I’ve had people call and say, please, let the Vice President know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we’re all for it, if it saves American lives. Again, this debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?"
Cheney: "I do agree. And I think the terrorist threat, for example, with respect to our ability to interrogate high value detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that’s been a very important tool that we’ve had to be able to secure the nation…
Hennen: "Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?"
Cheney: "Well, it’s a no-brainer for me, but for a while there I was criticised as being the vice president for torture. We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in."
Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the senate judiciary committee, accused the administration of "stonewalling", and the CIA fail to convincingly explain why they destroyed the tapes.
"Every time we seem to reach a new low in this administration’s arrogant flaunting of the rule of law and constitutional limits on executive power, we learn startling new revelations about the extent to which some will go to avoid accountability, undermine oversight and stonewall the truth," Leahy said.
The inability of liberal democratic states to maintain a moral stance on issues such as torture, or to uphold the rule of law has become increasingly apparent over the past few years. Needing to maintain corporate profits, responding to the pressures of popular opinion that has been inflamed by propaganda in the war on terror all adds to the pressure to bend principles that are still held up as a standard for others to follow. Islam has a legal framework that does not bend, and that does not permit torture – under any circumstances.
‘Moral’ debates about the greatest good for the greatest number, used by politicians to justify their policies such as torture, seem to be on the increase in the west. We may well see more moral doors that were once thought closed reopened, and several more shameful crimes renamed to maintain the thin veneer of dignity. But when a moral edifice cracks, no amount of decoration will hold it together for long.
Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain
21st December 2007
12 Dhul Hijjah 1428