Letters: The torture debate part 1

Torture is an inexcusable assault on human decency
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The Independent Online

Leaving aside for a moment the moral repugnance I felt as I read Bruce Anderson's defence of torture (Opinion and Debate, 15 February), I should like first to challenge his claim that he is being realistic in recommending that it be legalised.

Bruce Anderson justifies the use of torture against a suspect's wife and children ("We not only have a right to use torture. We have a duty", 15 February). Pinochet shared his view and had the power to implement it. Obviously those who criticised his methods or tried to prevent them were also classed as enemies.

I spent 21 months under detention without trial or charges after being subject to secret police methods, and witnessed people "disappearing" who were held with me in Chile in the 1970s. The authorities even denied their existence. Pinochet quickly lost allies internationally and support at home, making his government so weak he could only stay in power by terrorising the population at large.

I am glad the head of MI5 does not want to follow this path. He has said that if we fail to live up to the legal and moral responsibilities in countering terrorism we are giving a propaganda weapon to our opponents. I think we would also be destroying the basis of whatever freedoms and democracy we have. The terrorists cannot destroy this country, but following Mr Anderson's recipe would do so. - Abelardo Clariana-Piga, Southampton



Briefly...

Infallible

Andrew Lee-Hart (letter, 15 February) categorically states: "It is certainly the case that by far the majority of people who do oppose Israel are anti-Semites." Who am I, or anyone else, to contradict him? He could single-handedly replace our opinion polls. Eddie Dougall, Walsham le Willows, Suffolk

Gay rights in football

Regarding the FA's refusal to commit itself to an anti-homophobia campaign, is it not time for gay football fans and sympathetic straight fans (if there are any) to stop going to games and end their Sky Sports subscriptions? It seems to me that the FA's only concern is for money, and these actions may get through to them. Stephen Hann, Leicester

Paying for theology

David Smith is no less timid than Dominic Lawson when he questions the state funding of studies in theology and divinity (letter, 13 February). Numbers are merely a man-made language to describe particular ideas and one particular way of looking at things; they only exist in our minds. What possible worth can there be in the state-funded study of mathematics? David Woods, Hull

Muslim science?

In her article "The closed minds that deny a civilisation's glories" (15 February) Yasmin Alibhai-Brown mentions the Science Museum's exhibition of 1,001 inventions of Muslim science. That may be a shorthand for the countries which were predominantly Muslim, but how can it be considered Muslim science? Where is the religious side of science? Is the discovery of the atom Christian science? Paul Finlay, Nottingham

Quote your sources

Roger Helmer MEP protests too much when he suggests that it was for Sir John Houghton to deny the misquotation about climate change (letter, 13 February). An honest and accurate writer would be able to give a verifiable source for his quotes. If he cannot, a graceful apology and withdrawal would bring the matter to a close. But why should we expect this of Mr Helmer? He is a politician after all. Peter Wadsley, Bristol

Runaway spending

I would love to join in the debate proposed by Professor Lindesay about the perils of the NHS adopting Toyota's concept of "lean thinking" (letters, 11 February), but I'm busy trying to drive my Prius to the garage. Can't stop. Stan Broadwell, Bristol

I find it hard to believe that any British newspaper has ever printed such appalling sentiments as those expressed by Bruce Anderson in his article "We not only have a right to use torture. We have a duty" (15 February).

To state that a suspected terrorist in Britain should not only be tortured, but that if he didn't crack, his wife and children should be tortured also, is morally indefensible. He does not speak for me. No matter how many caveats he proposes to soften my revulsion, such advocacy in the name of this country should be severely reprimanded.

In the past I have been mildly amused by Mr Anderson's quirky take on the world, but I feel that this incitement to one of the worst crimes imaginable, the torture of innocent children, is way beyond human decency. Your paper has a reputation to uphold. It has been deeply sullied by this article. Alan Collinson, Rhos on Sea, North Wales

As I read Bruce Anderson's article, I was overcome with nausea, rage and despair. Yes, I know Mr Anderson's job is to provide a hard-right voice in an otherwise liberal publication, and that controversy sells. But this is an indication of a profound change in attitudes: as our government digs itself deeper into the torture hole, more and more apologists emerge.

At secondary school, I had an excellent general studies teacher who taught lessons on the relationship between the state and the individual, including a lesson on torture. We were shown videos and held class discussions on the subject. It was clear to me and every other pupil that what makes our democracy superior is that in this country we do not torture people.

So when did that change? When did the Bruce Andersons get a licence to deploy their weasel-worded justifications of state brutality? When did it become OK to remove people's fingernails and mutilate their genitals? And when will we be updating the National Curriculum to reflect this? Tom Cunliffe, Oxford

Bruce Anderson makes a category mistake when he compares torture and the destruction of the National Gallery in terms of degree of "aesthetic affront".

Whether any "ticking bomb" scenario would justify the torture of a suspect's wife and children is not a question of aesthetics but of ethics.

The loss of the National Gallery might well be thought a tragedy, but legitimise torture and you possibly precipitate an even greater one: the loss of a society worth defending, even by legitimate means. Malcolm Ross, Totnes, Devon

The destruction of the National Gallery would be the lesser aesthetic affront than torture. It is just a building full of things (albeit culturally and historically important things). Torture is the destruction of a person to serve your own ends. A living, breathing, sentient being with the capacity for suffering. Irrespective of warped views or despicable intentions, the living always has greater value than the non-living.

It is abhorrent that Mr Anderson can reach such a wide audience with his barbarism, laughable that he considers himself and his lifestyle more important than those he wishes harm upon, and tragic that he does not understand that when we surrender our morality, change our way of life and the codes we live by, or give in to our baser instincts for vengeance, the terrorists have won. D Barnes, Leeds

I was horrified by Bruce Anderson's article. He proposes that we have a duty to torture an accused man's wife and children to obtain information. Who are the "we"? Would he volunteer for the task? Would "I was just obeying orders" free torturers from moral responsibility?

His "aesthetics" argument is obnoxious. In spite of loving the National Gallery I would no longer want to visit a place that was preserved by the torture of a man and his wife and his children and the moral degradation of the torturers and their masters. And I no longer want to read anything else written by Bruce Anderson. Mary Godden, Margate, Kent

Mr Anderson tells me that condoning torture is sometimes necessary to defend my way of life and this civilisation. Apart from the many arguments that information gleaned in this way cannot be relied upon, torture has not been morally acceptable in this society for centuries. Therefore this is not defending this civilisation and its culture but changing it for the worse.

We are constantly told we must give up our civil liberties, to defend our way of life. Now it seems our moral values have to go as well. If we follow that route our culture is lost and the terrorists win. Susan Alam, London W4

Bruce Anderson postulates a "man in custody who probably knows" where the ticking bomb is, and argues that it would be right to torture him to find out where the bomb is. What terror lies in that "probably".

Who decides that the man "probably" knows: our far from infallible intelligence officers, policemen, the Home Secretary? Does Mr Anderson think that information extracted in this way will be reliable? And can he be serious when he says that the preservation of a collection of pictures is worth inflicting agony on an innocent child? Gwyn Morgan, London SW18

Anyone who shares Bruce Anderson's reluctant belief that saving thousands of lives would justify the torture of a bomber's five-year-old daughter needs to think it through; if it became apparent that nothing short of dropping acid in the child's eyes would prevent the nuclear devastation of London, where would be the logic in thinking that an act too far?

If no one else would do the deed, would they volunteer? And if not, why not? Patrick Tuohy, Hastings, East Sussex

Bruce Anderson's position that it is permissible to use torture to extract information with the intention of averting sufficiently bad consequences logically commits him not to complain about the morality of "the other side", when they use similar methods on our agents with the intention of averting what they regard as sufficiently bad consequences. Ken Cohen, London NW6

Apart from the unreliability of confessions elicited under duress, Bruce Anderson needs to consider the effect of torture on the enemy he fears. More people are radicalised by the atrocities of opposing forces than by any teachings in abstract beliefs. What he wants to use as a weapon will rebound on us all. Cole Davis, Minsk, Belarus

Race to save chariot circus

The excellent report by Tom Peck (8 February) about the discovery of Britain's only Roman chariot-racing circus, at Colchester, is much appreciated. It is hoped that his article will not only result in greater awareness of the greatest Roman discovery in living memory but that it will also persuade people and organisations to contribute to secure the site for future generations.

I am pleased to say that the developer, Taylor Wimpey, kindly agreed to my request to extend the deadline for the purchase of the nearby former sergeants' mess, part of the Victorian Colchester garrison, which is being developed with housing. This is vital if we are to save the site of the circus. We have until the end of February to raise the remaining £100,000. Bob Russell MP, (Lib Dem, Colchester) House of Commons SW1

Summer Time for children, not cows

In Hit & Run (10 February), Simon Usborne says of plans to try keeping British Summer Time throughout the year that Scottish farmers complain because they "don't like milking cows in the dark". When British Standard Time was tried out in the late Sixties, a similar argument was advanced, but not by farmers. They pointed out that cows don't have alarm clocks and milking time does not depend on clock time.

As a schoolboy in the north of England at the time, I didn't like having to go to school in the dark. It didn't get light till much of the way through the first lesson period.

Maybe we should go back to the old medieval system where the period of daylight was divided into a set number of hours and an hour varied in length according to the season. People got up when it got light and went to bed when it got dark. Paul Dormer, Guildford, Surrey

No solar heat for the washing

We are encouraged to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. I have installed a solar water heating system, which gives me free hot water during summer months, and assisted water-heating during the winter.

Soon, I will need to buy another washing machine. In a high street electrical store, I discovered, to my horror, that dual feed – hot and cold water intake – washing machines are no longer available. Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing? Nicolas F Edwards, Sleaford, Lincolnshire

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