The British government’s decision to make payments to former detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in order to settle High Court actions raises the issue of the role and place of torture in liberal societies.
The wide-scale use of torture during WW2 and the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Nazi’s led to a raft of international treaties on the prohibition of torture. In 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 5 stating: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), which came into force in June 1987, states in article 2: “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.”
Despite the international conventions and principles of liberty, torture has begun to be justified by liberals in western democracies, particularly in the context of the war of terror.
In a recent speech the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, said: “Yet if we hold back and don’t pass that intelligence, out of concern that a suspect terrorist may be badly treated, innocent lives may be lost that we could have saved. “These are not abstract questions just for philosophy courses or searching editorials, they are real, constant operational dilemmas. Sometimes there is no clear way forward. The more finely-balanced judgments have to be made by ministers themselves.”
This clearly implies senior liberals in the current Con-Lib coalition Government regularly receive and make use of intelligence with disregard for the fact that the suspect may have been tortured.
George W Bush argued that waterboarding “disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.” Pressed by the BBC in 2010 on his personal view of waterboarding, Presidential Advisor Karl Rove said: “I’m proud that we kept the world safer than it was, by the use of these techniques. They’re appropriate; they’re in conformity with our international requirements and with US law.”
A minority of liberals do oppose torture on so-called principle while others oppose it less on principle and more on the basis of practicality – the tortured is likely to say whatever the torturer wants to hear so the confession is unreliable.
Despite the espoused opposition to torture on principle the reality is very few, if any, liberal principles are in fact enshrined. Liberal principles have changed, adopted and adapted with circumstances, practicalities, and developments in social norms.
This is inevitable when values originate from weak, limited and imperfect humans, particularly as the ultimate accountability rests with parliaments, the highest law making bodies in democracies, which are after all made up of men and women with their prejudices and inconsistencies. Some of the most draconian laws have been enacted by parliaments recently.
This is not how it is in Islam where the rules, laws and legislation come from Allah (swt) the Creator of the universe who is neither male nor female. No Muslim can change Allah’s commands and prohibitions irrespective of the circumstances, practicalities or social norms. Thus unlike under liberalism when Islam forbids torture – it’s the final word on the subject.
Every individual is innocent until proven guilty. No person shall be punished without a court sentence. Torturing is absolutely forbidden. Whoever inflicts torture on anyone shall be punished.
Article 13: The Islamic State, Taqiuddin an-Nabhani