Thursday, July 10, 2008

Not all of it reliable

"Counterterrorism measures ought not to be extraordinary measures in a special category of their own but as far as possible part of the ordinary criminal law of the land."

Baroness Stern, House of Lords,
[Official Report, 8/7/08; col. 708.]

I was reminded of that comment while listening to Night Waves last night, in which my chum Matthew Sweet interviewed Christopher Hitchens on the subject of waterboarding (available on Listen Again for a week).

It has been claimed that 'waterboarding' is an extreme interrogation technique rather than torture - which is of course against American and international law, so not what 'we' would ever do at all. The argument goes that in difficult circumstances against terrorist aggressors this kind of thing is necessary.

Vanity Fair dared Christopher Hitchens to undergo waterboarding (in controlled conditions where he could stop it by saying a word). His article, "Believe Me, It's Torture" is available on the Vanity Fair website, along with a short video.

Hitchens explains the physical and pyschological effects in the short and longer term. He is careful to put both sides of the argument yet clearly feels, as a result of the experience, that waterboarding crosses a line. Waterboarding used to be something American soldiers were trained to resist, and for which other people were punished. And the evidence obtained, even the CIA admitted, was "not all of it reliable". There's something chilling about that grudging acknowledgement.

In the Night Waves interview, Hitchens denied that the experience changed his own views, but also detailed some of the continuing psychological hangover.

In her speech on the Counter-Terrorism Bill on Tuesday, Baroness Stern also quoted an earlier speech by Lord Judd:
“We must remember that those cornerstones of British justice which have been so admired throughout the world did not come lightly; they came from decades and centuries of struggle and rugged determination to make the law a civilised example ... Part of me recoils at the concept that, however frightening the terrorism with which we are confronted, we should by the presence of that danger begin to dismantle or erode what we have seen as fundamental to our system of justice”.

[Official Report, 27/2/08; col. 729.]

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