Torture and the Banality of Evil

April 17, 2009

Torture and the Banality of Evil


I feel sick. I have that sunk, painful feeling as though my stomach had emptied, and that shakiness though the central nervous system. I feel dirty, like I want to shower for ages.

I have just read all 124 pages of the Top Secret torture memos from Bush’s lawyers in the CIA and Department of Justice, which were obtained and released yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

These are just a small sample of the acres of casuistry devoted to justifying the return to medieval barbarity under the Bush regime. The ACLU is pressing for more. Please do read them, but do not be sucked into their crazy internal logic. Remember they are deliberately underdescribing and downplaying the pain and terror this torture causes.

As you look at their careful discussion of how to characterise different levels of pain inflicted on shackled and helpless captives, you are in the crazed world of Dr Mengele. It is obvious even to the most unqualified person that what they are discussing is, to any reasonable person in any normal definition, torture. And that their legal arguments are continually strained to breaking point. The acknowledgement that waterboarding induces “Fear of imminent death by drowning” but argument that this can be “contextualized”, would be laughably bad if it were not so appalling.

Compare the tortured logic of the Bush lawyers with the simple clarity of the UN Convention Against Torture, to which the US is a party and which is the applicable international law.

“For the purposes of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

The UK is guilty. Every intelligence report released by the CIA as a result of these torture sessions was copied to MI6 under the UK/US intelligence sharing agreement. Jack Straw took a deliberate and informed decision that in the “War on Terror” the UK would obtain intelligence from torture, by the CIA, by Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and the various thug security services involved in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme.

To the best of my knowledge and belief, I was the only official in the entire British civil sevice who tried internally to oppose this use of torture intelligence. In consequence I was not only sacked but subjected to a sustained campaign of slurs and smears, orchestrated by 10 Downing St and the FCO, with the deliberate aim of destroying my reputation.

That is the evidence which I shall be giving to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on 28 April. I will also be arguing that, as in the US, the Top Secret documents on the UK’s attitude to torture must now be released, including the telegrams and minutes of meetings to which I allude in my evidence.

Obama’s decision that none of the CIA operatives, bosses or lawyers who instituted this barbarity should be prosecuted, is a dreadful harbouring and encouragement of criminality. If Obama really is genuine about improving the image of the US in the world, that is a retrograde step.

The most important single step he could take now would be to sign the United States up to the International Criminal Court, as evidence of a genuine desire to be part of the community of nations.


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