George W Bush has defended his use of waterboarding, which is clearly a form of torture as defined by the UN Convention on Torture:...an act by which severe ... suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information...
He claims it worked in preventing attacks on Heathrow and Canary Wharf. This is an important claim. Is it true?
It looks as if Bush is referring to the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks. Craig Murray writes:
"The man was waterboarded - which causes excruciating pain and suffocation - over 180 times. That is about once every three days over the period in question. There are few examples in history of anybody ever being tortured so severely over such an extended period. Can you imagine the permanent mental anguish, of waiting for the next physical anguish to begin? Plainly the "Ticking bomb" argument used by Cheney and the pro-torture lobby is a myth, when torture extends over years."
As a result of his 4 year period of torture, he confessed to planning several terrorist plots, including Heathrow and Canary Wharf attacks. I seem to remember Heathrow being surrounded with tanks during a peace demonstration. At the time we just took it to be a piece of Government street theatre. Maybe they were responding to KSMs distorted "confessions".
So it looks, on the evidence available, as if Bush is fooling himself. Again. He believes that KSM was tortured into revealing important details of a plot to blow up Heathrow and Canary Wharf, when, like any torture victim, he was willing to say anything just in order to stop the pain and suffering.
If I am wrong, Bush needs to come up with more evidence. As do the journalists who will repeat his words uncritically, slowly oozing into the mind of the British people the false idea that torture works.
There is more background to KSM's arrest here, in which we read "Inside the C.I.A., says a retired senior officer who was privy to the agency’s internal debate, there was hardly any argument about the value of coercive methods: “Nobody in intelligence believes in the ticking bomb. It’s just a way of framing the debate for public consumption. That is not an intelligence reality.”
So if there is no robust historical evidence that torture produces valuable information, the torture lobby have to fall back onto the "ticking bomb" argument which goes like this:
"What if you knew a bomb was going to go off in one hour, killing hundreds of your people, and you were holding the bomber? Would it not be right to torture him to find the location of the bomb?"
This is a hypothetical scenario, and no other piece of policy would ever be rested on such a flimsy piece of fiction, especially not a policy with such serious humanitarian and reflexive implications. Thousands are being tortured in real life every day, and the torture lobby wants this to continue under the pretext of an imaginary scenario?
But if we take the scenario at face value, it does not work, because a terrorist can hold out for an hour. He can buy respite by giving a false location for the bomb.
The "ticking bomb" defence is without merit.
There is the reflexive aspect of condoning torture on the basis of this fairy tale. If Britain tortures people, Britons will get tortured. Period. So in condoning torture, the British Government, and their spokespersons in the media, will cause British citizens to be tortured in the future.
In the past they used to do human sacrifice. Humanity gave that up 3000 years ago. It is time we gave up the torture and war also.