“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
George Bush announced on Monday that he authorised the use of waterboarding. Many in our country applaud him, including parents of the victims of 7/7. I suspect, if there was a straw poll, that a significant majority would support the use of torture when interrogating terrorists. They say that a majority in Britain would be happy to see the return of the death penalty. Does majority rule make it right?
I can, of course, understand and sympathise with the emotion and the concept that it is better to torture a terrorist to obtain information than to let people die. We can all understand the concept. We can all sympathise. But does that make it right? Does it reduce us to the same level as those who commit acts of terror against us?
We are signatories to The Geneva Convention. The Geneva Convention prohibits the use of torture. Waterboarding is within the definition of torture. Our government, confirmed recently by the head of MI6, Sir John Sawyer, will not employ torture in the interrogation of terrorists or prisoners of war. It is possible that some members of our armed forces will stand trial for war crimes.
Phillipe Sands QC, professor of law at University College London and author of Torture Team, writes in The Guardian today…
Although it comes as no surprise, George Bush’s straight admission that he personally authorised waterboarding – an act of torture and a crime under US and international law – marks a dismal moment for western democracies and the rule of law. When again will the US be able to direct others to meet their human rights standards? Certainly not before it takes steps to bring its own house in order.
Bush claims that the use of waterboarding on Abu Zubaydah “saved lives”, including British ones. There is not a shred of evidence to support that claim, one that falls into the same category as the bogus intelligence relied on to justify war in Iraq.
For my part, easy though it is from the comfort of my desk – a freedom enjoyed by the blood of our forbears in World Wars and recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, lives lost and destroyed through severe injury in all our wars and to be respected at 11.00 tomorrow and on Remembrance Sunday – but I believe in the Rule of Law and I believe we are stronger as a nation, as a people, for not reducing ourselves to the level of those who seek to cause us harm.
The difficulty is… that it is easy to have fine sentiments when one has not been the victim. But then I am reminded of the remarkable courage and dignity of the parents of Linda Norgove, killed in Afghanistan recently. Their dignity and compassion inspired me.