There’s a saying somewhere in the Bible, “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” I’m sure there’s plenty of holy bods out there who could quote me chapter and verse. I was reminded of it yesterday when I read two articles, one by a professional journalist whom I have no compunction about naming and shaming, and another by a UK blogger, who generally writes quite sane stuff, so must be allowed the occasional aberration, and will remain anonymous.
Bruce Anderson is not the sort of writer with views one would expect to find expressed in ‘The Independent’. However, it is one of the better journals and as such must remain open to all points of view. Anderson’s first sentence expresses his disgust for torture. “Torture,” he writes, “is revolting.”
He continues in similar vein:
Torturers set out to break their victim: to take a human being and reduce him to a whimpering wreck. In so doing, they defile themselves and their society.”
There is nothing I would disagree with in his first paragraph, but sadly the next twelve hundred or so words set out exactly why Anderson believes modern day societies should use torture to elicit information from their enemies.
“Men,” he proclaims, “cannot live like angels.”
Presumably, in Bruce Anderson’s world, that frees them to behave as barbarians?
Or, is he perhaps merely more astute than the rest of us? Have we, as a species, already reached our limit of respectability, and begun the inevitable descent back into animalistic barbarism?
Only this morning the BBC News announced a major Taliban chief had been captured in a joint Pakistani/American venture on the Afghanistan border. According to the BBC, the gentleman concerned was “providing valuable intelligence”.
Presumably, he wasn’t sitting down taking tea with Asif Ali Zardari and Stanley A. McChrystal, sharing a joint, and happily spilling the beans over Taliban positions, so we can safely assume he was “being reduced to a whimpering wreck,” to coin Anderson’s own phraseology.
The author himself unknowingly stifles his own argument. Torture is not a ‘one-off-for-a-unique-set-of-circumstances’ option. It isn’t being held in abeyance pending the remote possibility a terrorist, having planted an atomic weapon in New York, will fall conveniently into the hands of the CIA.
Anderson is quite specific: those who use torture defile themselves and their society. That fact alone is reason never to use torture under any circumstance. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are proving, a ‘one-off’ gravitates to ‘routine’, and ultimately torture techniques are rewritten into the codes of war.
“As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”
Yesterday, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament reared its head in Britain by blockading a nuclear weapons site where warheads for Trident submarines are made. This prompted the author of one of my regular blog-reads to comment on the matter:
In an age where the boundaries between the goodies and the baddies are no longer clear-cut or identifiable, when countries filled with people who have not only made it pretty clear that they hate anything Western and will happily die in the process of taking a few Westerners down with them are slowly acquiring the technology that will enable them to build their own nuclear weapons and when there’s never been a time when nuclear material has been less clearly accounted for, then it might be argued that it’s probably sensible to ensure we’re at least on something of a level playing field…………….the countries that have their own weapons at least have the capacity to make the aggressors stop and think. And that may be all we can hope for.”
The writer is entitled to the opinion he expresses, and puts forth sane and sensible arguments, though in his reference to terrorist organizations, I doubt they would ‘stop and think’, and even if they did it’s unlikely to deter them from any action, martyrdom being such a valuable asset to these religious cranks.
My reason for quoting from his article is simply to make the point that we wouldn’t have this nuclear dilemma if power-hungry governments hadn’t rushed to develop the atomic bomb in the first place.
A strong movement arose after WW2 demanding the end to nuclear weapons. It resulted in various agreements, not least the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, that opened the road to eventual nuclear disarmament, if only nations had cared to venture down it.
None have; instead, a free-for-all has developed and everyone now wants to be nuclear armed. The NPT is dead in the water.
America developed the bomb for short-term gain at the end of WW2. The world is now reaping what it sowed sixty years ago.
Similarly so, with less obvious weapons of destruction such as the internal combustion engine, rampant industrialization, the short-term wealth advantages of deforestation, chemicalized food production, and the myriad of other planet harming projects with which we’ve contaminated ourselves and this planet over the last one hundred years.
“As ye sow, so shall ye reap,” is not just a religious quotation, it ranks with some of the greatest laws of physics.
I see an increase in the use of torture as the inevitable result of escalating war. Shortages of food and water due to climate change, produced by our own ineptitude, will create further conflicts throughout the globe. That is inevitable.
There was a time man at least aspired to be as the angels; it was inherent in all religious creeds. But, like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Geneva Conventions, and the words of US presidents – “We do not torture!” – that, too, is now dead in the water.
 “Bruce Anderson: We not only have a right to use torture. We have a duty” The Independent, February 15th 2010
Filed under: Declining standards