To torture or not to torture? A question that troubles the West
In the hit Fox TV thriller “24” Counter Terrorism agent Jack Bauer (played by Kiefer Sutherland) usually gets his man. And more often than not it will involve a fair dose of urgent persuasion.
Although illegal (and the programme makers stress the illegality of his actions) Jack Bauer will routinely cut off his opponents fingers (with a cigar cutter), inject all manner of chemicals, or simply beat them to near death in the interests of gathering a vital morsel of information. It’s an example of the “ticking bomb” scenario – faced with a ticking bomb, all formalities and rules go out the window. Of course in a 24 part series with each part representing only 1 hour of Jack’s frantic life, not a minute can be lost – so much so that the torture tactics appear regularly – on average every 2 hours in fact! While “24” doesn’t represent reality, it has managed very effectively to desensitise the American public to the use of torture.
But Binyam Mohamed is no fictional character, and the repeated torture he suffered at the hands of his captors was no illusion. Where was the ticking bomb in his case? What was the urgent life or death information that had to be extracted with the greatest reluctance? In his case, and those of many others, the ‘ticking bomb’ is as real as Saddam’s WMD.
In Binyam’s case, a US judge reported that his “trauma lasted for two long years. During that time he was physically and psychologically tortured. His genitals were mutilated … All the while he was forced to inculpate (incriminate) himself and others in various plots to imperil Americans.”
The supposed ‘ticking bomb’ scenarios initially used to justify the use of torture, have now been replaced by sustained and routine torture of detainees in the off chance that some useful intelligence can be gained. Supposed “life saving” emergency action is now intimidation and humiliation as witnessed at Guantanamo bay, Bagram Air base, Abu Ghraib and many other less publicised rendition centres.
The 1984 UN Convention against torture that Western states supposedly uphold is explicit. It defines torture as “the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering whether physical or mental”. The US only ratified this law 10 years later in 1994 and have been reigning back on it ever since. President Bush set out a new directive redefining what constitutes torture in a communiqué of August 2002: “the infliction of pain equivalent to serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions or even death”. Anything less than such a draconian beating merely constitutes “coercive interrogation” in the US leadership’s eyes.
The British government, despite protestations of principle against torture in all its guises, is in reality complicit with American policy. The Binyam Mohamed case has exposed the hypocrisy of their position. Binyam Mohamed complained that British agents attended his interrogation/torture sessions. A case confirming British involvement (MI5 and MI6) in his torture by the CIA, was tried at court in 2009. Despite attempts by the UK foreign secretary, David Miliband, to suppress the evidence, citing that such disclosure would harm national security because it was given in confidence by the US authorities, the government lost the case at the high court. On 14 December 2009, Miliband appealed against the high court ruling, that CIA information on Binyam Mohamed’s treatment, and what MI5 and MI6 knew about it, must be disclosed.
The British government’s excuses for their attempted and failed cover-up run hollow. There was no vital and confidential information extracted from Binyam Mohamed only that they tortured him and British agents happily watched/assisted. Furthermore if you make it known that you are prepared to accept the unreliable intelligence gained via torture, you are hardly doing anything to discourage the continuation of such torture – which further exposes the lie that they really oppose its use.
The subsequent decision of the UK Attorney General that MI5 and MI6 will not be investigated or prosecuted in connection with their complicity in the torture of detainees, only adds to the clear impression that such detestable and illegal activity is now being officially condoned at the highest levels.
Some people in the West feel sad that principles of ‘human rights’, that some in earlier generations fought hard for in Europe, such as the outright forbiddance of torture, have now so easily fallen by the wayside in the so-called “free” world. But outside those individuals who do actually care about these principles, there are leading legal or journalistic figures who are not merely debating the abhorrent idea but actively trying to justify it, which shows the depths to which some will stoop in their “war on terror”. In a recent article, the media commentator Bruce Anderson not only declares it a right to torture, but states Britain has a “duty” to torture, even advocating the torture of a suspect’s family to achieve the desired aims.
It is little wonder that trust and respect for the secular values espoused by western governments hold little acceptance anywhere in the Muslim world. Preemptive strikes for regime change, military occupation, and now pre-emptive torture to elicit confessions, desired intelligence or to simply bully, show the true face of a morally bankrupt regime, and Muslims have already experienced enough of those on our side of the fence. Democracy and freedom are merely slogans designed to attract the unthinking to their side, when in reality the old doctrine of “might is right” holds the true leadership. The battle for ideas was lost long ago. They disqualify themselves even before the starting blocks.
But there is also an inherent schizophrenic identity crisis in Western states. On one hand there is a strong claim of a principled commitment to human rights. But in truth these states regularly discard their human rights ideals for narrow interest based/utilitarian ideals. Moreover, much of the argument against torture is not that it is wrong in principle, but that it simply does not work, as if it would be any less repugnant if it had a modicum of success. The hypocrisy of such people that advocate human rights but hide behind legal injunctions and court actions to keep silent the truth of what their security services have done, does not do them or the system they represent any good. If they really had confidence in the principles they profess then surely they would have confidence that the arguments driven from these principles would win the debate. But the only plausible alternative explanation of this contradiction is that they (the ruling establishment in the West) know that the system is not truly fit for purpose. Hence they maintain an elaborate charade necessary to at least keep concerned individuals amongst the general public happy. But many Muslims are not so easily deceived.
Islam in contrast prohibits torture or any mistreatment of prisoners of war whatsoever. A common criticism of Shariah law is that it is absolutist on some issues, but this includes an absolute prohibition of torture. The Messenger (Sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “Providing a proof is incumbent on the plaintiff and giving an oath is a must on the defendant, if he denies.’
The Messenger of Allah explained that providing the initial proof is for the plaintiff to provide which also indicates conclusively that the defendant is treated as innocent until proven guilty. Coersion, the use of force and threatening behaviour towards the accused is also prohibited.
Hizb ut-Tahrir listed as Article 12 in the Draft Constitution for the Islamic State: Initially every person is innocent. And no
one is to be punished except by a rule of court. It is not permitted to torture any one and whosoever does so will be punished.
There is no ‘ends justifies the means’ argument in Islam, no ticking bomb clauses and no conviction without the presentation of evidence, the right to defend oneself in a valid court of law, and the right to a fair trial. The fact that torture exists today in Muslim countries is because these countries have adopted an ‘ends and means’ argument – where the ends are to secure regimes, and the means are torture to create fear and to keep western allies happy. The next Caliphate will have a constitutional prohibition on torture absolutely, and there is nothing that Jack and his friends at Fox can do to change that.