Friday, April 17, 2009

Obama does half a job on torture

I've been sickened by reading the extent to which the US sanctioned torture during the Bush administration.

Here are some of the things they did:

Imagine being kept, standing up, without sleep for 7.5 days.

I am petrified of wasps and can completely relate to the terror felt by somebody who was kept in a confined space into which an insect was released, and those who put the beastie in there told them it would sting them.

Being slapped, or slammed into a wall.

Waterboarding - not some jolly sport you do on holiday, but a hideous and terrifying form of abuse. I'm not over keen on water at the best of times so even reading about this makes me feel sick. It's important to recognise that this actually happened in the name of the United States. Basically victimes were strapped to a board, with their head tilted back. They then had water poured over them which would basically go down their nose and make them think they were drowning. How awful is that going to be?

I struggle to see what the use of these techniques actually achieves other than reinforcing in the minds of those who hear about it that the US is a bad country with no respect for human rights. It's just so inhumane and wrong and can never, ever be justified.

Even if you take the human rights side out of the equation, how can you rely on information extracted under torture being accurate. If it were me, I'd probably get to the point where I'd tell my abusers what they wanted to hear just to get them make the hell stop.

One of Obama's first acts in office was to stop all this nonsense and make it crystal clear that the practices were unacceptable. Now he's published the memos relating to the practices used. Big tick on both counts.

However, he's said that no action will be taken against those who carried out the abuse, and hasn't taken any yet against those who told the Bush Administration what it wanted to hear, that the use of these torture techniques was legal. This runs the risk of undermining, at least, the good work that Obama has done. Is it good enough to say "this ain't happening on my watch but I can't do anything about the other guy's?"

My instinct is that some sort of action should be taken against everybody involved, that should be proportionate to their role and influence in the process. If I were a CIA operative doing the interrogation and was ordered to do this kind of stuff and told that the Government had been advised that it was legal, I may well have felt powerless to do anything about it. I suspect I would have refused, though, just because I wouldn't have been able to do that to another human being. That would no doubt have had ramifications for my career, or my liberty, but I would have had a clear conscience. Having said that, the chances of me ever either seeking or being given that sort of job are less than zero.

The real villains of the piece are, of course, those who advised and implemented the rules, who did have the ability to pull back from the brink. In my opinion, they should have the book thrown at them. Obama has not ruled that out, which is hopeful.

One footnote to this is that the memos were released in response to a request from the American Civil Liberties Union. Our Government could learn from that, rather than spend a fortune on barristers trying to keep documents relating to the use of torture secret.

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1 comment:

Stephen Glenn said...

Right I'm going to have to find a subject you can't possibly expand upon for my next post ;)


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