February 17, 2010

IS THERE ANY AESTHETIC...:

We not only have a right to use torture. We have a duty: The Master of the Rolls has shown no understanding beyond courtroom niceties (Bruce Anderson, 15 February 2010, Independent)

[T]here is one benefit from the Americans' experiments with robust interrogation methods: water-boarding. Christopher Hitchens wanted to demonstrate that it was absurd to demonise water-boarding and that it was only girlie-man's torture. So he subjected himself to it. He cried off after seven seconds. That is comforting, and not only to Mr Hitchens's critics. Thus far, there has been no need for either the UK or the US to consider torture, because neither of us has been confronted by a ticking bomb. As a result of the Hitchens trial run, we know that we have something which could work.

That might sound frivolous. But there would be nothing frivolous about a ticking bomb. Cobra, the Cabinet's emergency committee, is in permanent session somewhere under Whitehall: the intelligence chiefs, grey and drawn from lack of sleep, inform the Prime Minister, ditto, that it seems almost certain that a nuclear device is primed to explode in the next few hours. There is a man in custody who probably knows where it is. They are ready to use whatever methods are necessary to extract the information...

Before 9/11, in front of some serious lawyers, I once argued that if there were a ticking bomb, the Government would not only have a right to use torture. It would have a duty to use torture. Up sprang Sydney Kentridge, one of the great liberals of our age and a fearless defender of unpopular causes, from Nelson Mandela in the old South Africa to fox-hunting in modern Britain. I prepared to receive incoming fire. It came, in the form of a devilish intellectual challenge. "Let's take your hypothesis a bit further. We have captured a terrorist, but he is a hardened character. We cannot be certain that he will crack in time. We have also captured his wife and children".

After much agonising, I have come to the conclusion that there is only one answer to Sydney's question. Torture the wife and children. It is a disgusting idea. It is almost a tragedy that we even have to discuss it, let alone think of acting upon it. But there is nothing to be gained from refusing to face facts, in the way that the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuburger, did last week. His Lordship wrapped himself in a cloak of self-righteousness, traduced an entire security service, showed no understanding of the courage which its officers routinely display: no understanding, indeed, of anything beyond courtroom niceties.

There is a threat not only to individual lives, which is of minor importance, but to our way of life and our civilisation. Torture is revolting, but we cannot substitute aesthetics for thought. Anyway, which is the greater aesthetic affront: torture, or the destruction of the National Gallery?


...wherein the refusal to torture for the exclusive purpose of obtaining intelligence from enemies is woth innocent human lives?

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 17, 2010 7:38 AM
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