Under pressure: Is forcing people into stress positions, like this one, ever justified? © Amnesty International
This week Amnesty International released the results of its global poll on torture, revealing some worrying views. Can torturing another human being ever make the world a safer place?
Mock executions, electric shocks, sleep deprivation and waterboarding: all hideous abuses that most of us would surely condemn in an instant.
But research released this week suggests otherwise. Almost a third of Britons think torture can be justified, according to a poll conducted by the human rights organisation Amnesty International.
It found that 29% of the British public agreed with the statement ‘torture is sometimes necessary and acceptable to gain information that may protect the public.’ The study also revealed that 44% rejected the idea that there should be a global ban on torture.
These disturbing figures are part of a wider report published by the organisation, which claims torture is ‘flourishing around the world.’ The charity has recorded 27 different kinds of torture and other cruel treatments in 79 countries this year alone.
According to the poll, the belief that torture is sometimes necessary to protect the public is more common in the UK than in many other countries, including Spain and Argentina – both of which have recent experience of military dictatorships that used torture routinely.
What can explain the approval of such barbarity? Amnesty believes that television programmes, such as ‘Homeland’ and ‘24’ are to blame, because they justify the abuse of detainees. Jack Bauer, the leading character in ‘24’, has beaten, stabbed, shot, suffocated and electrocuted numerous villains in his mission to save the world from terrorists. It has even been said that the show has inspired interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo Bay.
Torture became more widespread in the West after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. The US government, fearful of more extremist threats, sanctioned the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (a euphemism for torture methods such as stress positions) despite accusations that this violated international law.
Panic over principle
Those who believe that torture can be justified usually use the ‘ticking time bomb’ scenario to support their point of view. If a terrorist in custody possesses crucial knowledge of a time bomb about to explode, surely it is morally right to torture him in order to prevent a huge loss of life, goes the thinking. The end justifies the means.
But there are flaws in this argument. It has been proven on countless occasions by security experts that torture does not work, because a person in extreme pain is likely to lie or make up information to get it to stop. More importantly, torture is incredibly cruel, leaving victims mentally and physically scarred, often for life. We must not allow popular culture to justify its horror and soften its moral squalor.
Allah protects Somaliland.