Letters: The torture debate part 2

Torture and the 'ticking bomb' – the debate goes on
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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.

First, the "ticking bomb" scenario, so frequently used to make the pro-torture case, is almost totally implausible. The necessary conditions – knowledge of the nature of the bomb and its timing, and its potential victims, yet not its location, and the capture of a terrorist whose guilt and knowledge are absolutely certain – are a paranoid fantasy or an episode of Spooks, not real life.

Second, the information obtained under torture is not reliable. A hardened terrorist might be capable of misinforming his torturers; one reduced to a gibbering wreck might give them nonsense. (If waterboarding is so efficacious, why was one man in US custody subjected to it more than 80 times – for fun?)

Third, has Mr Anderson given any thought to the practical implications of legalising torture? The necessity of defining who should authorise it, and in precisely what circumstances? The necessity of having trained state torturers? (Should we employ people who enjoy it?) And who decides how long we go on torturing the suspect before we start on his wife and children?

But fourth comes the repugnance. How dare Mr Anderson refer to the problem as "aesthetic", as if it were the distasteful ugliness of torture that kept us from it, not its intrinsic evil? In countries where torture is endemic, it is not used as a tool for extracting life-saving information from hardened criminals. It is an instrument of state terrorism, used to crush political opponents and keep opposition paralysed by fear. If Britain or the USA legalises it, that is what will happen here.

Torture is, and should remain, a crime. The risks of legitimising it far outweigh the risks posed by terrorists.

Sue Gilmurray

Ely, Cambridgeshire

Bruce Anderson's crude attempt to justify the use of torture (15 February) is a distraction. In their Court of Appeal consideration of the case of Binyam Mohamed, the Master of the Rolls and his colleagues were not being asked to pass judgment on the utility or otherwise of torture. They were simply being asked to uphold the rule of law – of which the absolute prohibition on torture is a fundamental pillar.

So far from "refusing to face facts" and indulging in "legal niceties", the judges were seeking, and are still seeking, to establish the facts in the face of the apparent determination of the UK government to prevent those facts from coming out.

Much of the evidence that has so far emerged from the Binyam Mohamed case, as well as from Human Rights Watch's own investigations, indicates UK complicity in torture. What we now need is a full public inquiry to find out how this disregard for the rule of law was allowed to take hold, how far it spread, and who was responsible.

Tom Porteous

London Director, Human Rights Watch, London N1

David Miliband and others state in "defence" of the Government in the Binyam Mohamed case that its officials have not been given "licence" to collude in torture, that there is a "clear policy" against this, and that the "guidance" issued to them was hastily changed when the Bush-Cheney administration openly proclaimed its adoption of torture as a method.

In other words, their "defence" is that they did not provide the public with a paper trail. The real point is that by allying so fully with the Bush-Cheney administration on the world stage, they were effectively giving a signal to agency officials that they could safely ignore all questions of licence, policy and guidance.

If the British government was prepared to condone the wholesale application of torture by the US, then this surely gave the message that a bit of collusion here and there by the US's junior partner could escape with impunity.

Dr Hugh Goodacre

Department of Economics, University College London WC1

If Bruce Anderson is unconvinced by the moral argument against interrogation under torture, perhaps he should consider the practicalities.

Scepticism about the efficacy of torture as a means of establishing the truth dates back at least to the 4th century BC, when Aristotle wrote: "Those under compulsion are as likely to give false evidence as true, some being ready to endure everything rather than tell the truth, while others are equally ready to make false charges against others, in the hope of being sooner released from torture."

Brenda Griffith-Williams

London N8

I wonder whether Bruce Anderson might not reconsider his views on torture, were he to find himself at the receiving end. Besides, his arguments appear to rest on the, I suggest, debatable assumption that life matters more than dignity.

In any case, under Article 5 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention Against Torture, to which the UK is a signatory, the prohibition against torture is absolute (whatever the circumstances), a fact Mr Anderson appears to overlook.

Roberto Mercatali


So I take that, should one of his relatives threaten UK "national security" but evade arrest, Mr Anderson won't mind if he and other members of his family are arrested without charge and tortured without mercy.

His reasoning is so stupid and dangerous, it's a shock to me that The Independent printed his column.

Rick Loup


Rather than backing rendition and having unconvicted suspects tortured by others, Bruce Anderson should surely call for the United Kingdom to openly withdraw from its international human rights obligations?

Pat Warren

Bridgwater, Somerset

Bruce Anderson's assertion, "In the Islamic world, a religious revival is taking place, analogous to the Reformation and Counter-Reformation," is pure twaddle, as the infinitely superior article by Yasmin Alilibhai-Brown just four pages later illustrates. In extolling the "brave political elite" of Pakistan he further shows ignorance of the dubious habits of their ISI spooks in running with the Taliban/Al-Qa'ida hare and chasing with their paymasters in the West.

Richard Heron

Wantage, Oxfordshire

Your article by Bruce Anderson is a disgrace. Torture is a manifestation of pure evil. It is not a matter of "Opinion and Debate". To condone it under any circumstances is bestial.

Your paper is influential, so to give such views a platform is to demean it to the lowest level. You should be bitterly ashamed. As a reader, I certainly am.

Simon Dobbs

Slapton, Devon

After allowing Bruce Anderson's article to appear in The Independent, you cannot object to a Holocaust-denying writer or to a rape enthusiast having their obscene theses published.

Paolo Rossi Barnard

Bologna, Italy

The more you disagree with someone, the more essential it is that you hear their opinion, and provide counter-arguments. Bruce Anderson's repugnant article has provoked just this reaction in your readers. I am glad that you published it, and reassured that the world isn't completely mad after all.

Susan Alexander

Frampton Cotterell, South Gloucestershire

I agree with Brucie. If only we had tortured enough innocent Iraqi women and children, one of their menfolk would have coughed up those WMDs which we knew they possessed "beyond doubt".

David Williams


Can an 'exciting' election be fair?

The beginning of the end of the rotten, corrupt first-past-the-post voting system is welcome. This archaic system based on "safe seats" has undermined our parliamentary democracy. The Alternative Vote is but a pigeon-step forward, but it will, in time, lead to a fairer, more democratic proportional method of voting and greater voter choice.

But there is danger. The proposal to force local councils, their staff and scrutineers to count votes on election night is particularly unfair after they have worked a long stint on polling day. In a proper proportional voting system, the actual counting of votes will, of necessity, take longer. So maybe the insistence on ballot counts directly after polls is an attempt to force a "spanner in the works" by elements in Parliament who wish to maintain the bankrupt present system.

John Pinkerton

Milton Keynes

Parliament has instructed returning officers to begin the count after the next general election four hours after the close of poll. MPs say delaying the count and the declaration until the morning would end excitement.

We will be lucky if one or two seats declare before the early hours. Returning officers say it takes more than two hours to count postal votes and separate national and local election ballot papers . Not many results would come in before 4am.

I wonder if MPs have read of the exciting and dramatic outcomes of the 1950, 1964 and 1974 general elections, when rural seats not declaring until the Friday added to the drama?

The best way to maintain the excitement and drama of an election is to have a steady pattern of declarations of results from about an hour after the polls close on the Thursday evening until the Friday evening. Now, general elections seem to be set on the same day as local elections and this makes the declaration of results late on a Thursday night almost impossible .

Peter J Brown



Tory donor's taxes

George Osborne is right in saying that people are entitled to a private relationship with the HM Revenue. What the rest of us are entitled to know is that Lord Ashcroft does indeed have a relationship with HM Revenue; the details are between him and them. The Tories' denial of this important issue is disqualifying them from any moral right to govern.

Tom Simpson


Religious evidence

Your article "Waiting for a second coming – of Prince Philip" (13 February) gave a fascinating insight into how a religion can evolve, presumably in answer to some basic human need. Truly, man makes God. At least the Vanuatu islanders have some objective evidence of the existence of their god in the form of signed photographs and newspaper clippings. They must be the envy of all the world religions.

Patrick Smith

Beccles, Suffolk

Attack on deniers

I appreciated the article about the misquotation of John Houghton's words to discredit climate change scientists (10 February). It's no good just defending; these sceptics and their backers and funders have to be exposed and attacked. Whose interests are being served? Who is paying vast sums of money to get adverse publicity? Who doesn't care a damn about my future and yours and our children's as long as the dollars keep rolling in?

Mora McIntyre


Homily from Brown

I strongly object to your giving space to comment on Nelson Mandela to Gordon Brown (11 February). What he (or more probably a member of his staff) has written gives me no insight and we are left with the usual Brown homilies about "courage" and "change". We are effectively in an election campaign and Mr Brown (not uniquely, perhaps) is doing everything he knows to pull in the votes, including, apparently, blubbing on television. We have to take everything written in his name in that context.

Rodney Taylor

Barton-Le-Clay, Bedfordshire

Revealing slip

The Tories' accidental decimal-point slip with the figures for under-18 pregnancy in deprived areas exposes more than just incompetence. These figures would have been checked and re-read by more than just a gaggle of over-enthused wonks. Perhaps everyone at Tory central office actually believed this incredible statistic that over half our young girls in the poorest areas are becoming pregnant. They released the information so casually; there is a sense that this wasn't even a shock to them.

Richard Ansett

London N10

Return post

Can someone explain why a holiday postcard sent to me from Zermatt, Switzerland, to Somerset, ended up with a huge sticker obliterating the stamp and much of the message, reading: "Return to TNT" accompanied by an address in Iver, Buckinghamshire? Has TNT taken over the Royal Mail?

Jenny Craven

Over Stowey, Somerset