Someone drew my attention to this article in the Independent which raises the question of excusing barbarity for religious reasons. While the majority of the article is about the slaughtering of animals for religious ceremonies, the concept of excusing behaviour runs a striking parallel with the current situation Britain faces in conceding military personnel to undertake torture in the pursuit of peace.
On 28th October 2010, Sir John Sawers announced that his agents have "nothing to do with" torture, that the act of torture is "illegal and abhorrent".
Yet we have seen news story after news story about alleged Al Qaeda operatives being barbarically "persuaded" to provide intelligence.
The horror of "water boarding" and subsequent tales of human rights abuse have littered the papers for weeks.
The right wing press justify this behaviour with reminders of tragedies such as 9/11 and the Lockerbie bomber. This allows the misconception to prevail that truth can be elicited from someone through what underwhelmingly referred to as "harsh interrogation techniques".
Ultimately, the effectiveness of torture is both unmeasurable and too low to justify the severe damage it does to human beings and the cost to the government in enquiries, compensation and ultimately power.
If the effectiveness cannot be measured, then the benefits to society are also unavailable. And if similar behaviour by members of society is not tolerated, then the very justification for such behaviour is undermines the rule of law.
Torture and Duress
If we consider the act of putting someone under duress to be illegal, where is the justification in torture?
For those of you that don't understand "duress", Black's Law Dictionary (6th ed.) defines duress as;
"any unlawful threat or coercion used... to induce another to act [or not act] in a manner [they] otherwise would not [or would]" "
there is a fine line between this and;
"the act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty"
However, currently, it seems that while it is illegal to force someone to behave in a certain way, it is only illegal if you're not a member of the army, Secret Intelligence Service or related public body.
This logic undermines the rule of law. To imply, sanction or permit members of defence services to be immune from the law could potentially cripple the very foundations of British democracy.
And by paying out millions of pounds in compensation, our current government is doing just that.
While Foreign Secretary William Hague [has]denied the deal was an admission that security agencies colluded in any mistreatment, the refusal to discuss the issues, the lack of a public enquiry and the lack of faith in our government, current and past, ability to resist sadist behaviour for little or no gain is very present in my mind.
Tony Blair infamously ensured that the UK was exempt the European Charter of Human Rights, on the grounds that he fundamentally disagreed with the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
This premises never been rested, by either Brown's government and it is something I would like to see tackled heavily by the Coalition.
However, with the recent payouts to victims of alleged torture, this seems unlikely.
I was interested in why, as a member of the United Nations, Britain was still able to seemingly undertake and participate in torture expeditions.
A a member of the United Nations, the United Kingdom have signed up to prevent torture within their borders, and forbids states to return people to their home country if there is reason to believe they will be tortured.
And therein lies the lacuna. as long as Britain does not conduct is torture within their own borders, it seems that they feel free to sanction torture in any other country.
Allowing a Torture Regime
The BBC Magazine Article "The Truth About Torture" discusses countries where torture is part and parcel of the regime.
But given the recent news events of Britain's complicity in torturing activists under the justification of terrorism threats, I would suggest that currently, Britain needs to be considered one of these countries.
Whether or not we do it within our own boundaries.
Charmingly, the BBC Article states;
Most torturers, however, continued their trade until the regime change. For many, stopping torture was not an option - peer pressure, political indoctrination and a conviction of its effectiveness ensured their participation. But the very demise of the governments under whose name they tortured is testimony itself to the fact that torture, in the long term, rarely sustains a regime.
However, as I have illustrated, the current system of government in the UK shows no inclination to stopping this behaviour.
There needs to be a public outcry over behaviour that supports collusion to torture.
To concede the government a victory here is to allow them to continue in the grave abuse of human rights with little or no justification.