Repugnant to reason, justice, and humanity
December 8, 2005 9:50 AM   Subscribe

NewsFilter: Highest UK court rules against torture evidence. The Law Lords, the UK equivalent of the Supreme Court, issued a stern ruling condemning torture, and incidentally containing some judicial criticism of US policy. [more inside]
posted by athenian (22 comments total)
We have talked about torture a lot recently. In Iraq. At home. And abroad. However, a British legal ruling today provides a surprisingly interesting read on the history of torture in British and international law.

The UK's top court, the Law Lords, issued a 91 page ruling (pdf) on a fairly technical matter regarding the admissibility of evidence that the Government suspects was obtained under torture in some other country.

The ruling contains lots of history, and some surprisingly strong words on torture. Lord Bingham (p.5) gives a long list of citations about the inadmissibilty of torture under Britain's (unwritten) constitution. He summarises (quoting):
The crimes of murder and robbery are not more distinctly forbidden by our criminal code than the application of the torture to witnesses or accused persons is condemned by the oracles of the Common law.
Most controversial may be the view of Lord Hope, who says:
Views as to where the line is to be drawn may differ sharply from state to state. This can be seen from the list of practices authorised for use in Guantanamo Bay by the US authorities, some of which would shock the conscience if they were ever to be authorised for use in our own country.
The NYT has a wire story about this. Liberty and Amnesty are delighted.
posted by athenian at 10:02 AM on December 8, 2005

Last Friday the NewsHour ran a story on the torture debate. Neil Livingston, a "terrorism expert," argued that if we don't start torturing people now, we could find ourselves in some kind of Orwellian dictatorship. (transcript here)
posted by justkevin at 10:13 AM on December 8, 2005

if we don't start torturing people now, we could find ourselves in some kind of Orwellian dictatorship.

whhaaa? (what's the on-line equivalent of a spit-take?)
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 10:17 AM on December 8, 2005

if we don't start torturing people now, we could find ourselves in some kind of Orwellian dictatorship.

too late?

man that is great doublespeak. perfect example. Wonder if he read the book or was simple misapplying
posted by edgeways at 10:29 AM on December 8, 2005

Now all I need for my day to be complete is a one-line right-wing post complaining about how we talk about torture too much here.
posted by wakko at 10:29 AM on December 8, 2005

In almost the same sentence, Neil Livingston also says that the tyrant comes in the guise of the protector.

Too late, again.
posted by NationalKato at 10:32 AM on December 8, 2005

I really like that Condi Rice is assuring Europe that the US has a policy against the torture of POW's both in the US and abroad while Dick Cheney was lobbying for an exemption for the CIA specifically so they could torture prisoners. Maybe if this administration was so patently and obviously lying people wouldn't have such a hard time believing them?

But this is a good start. Make it so that the information obtained can't be used against them and it helps to diminish the value of torture-inspired confessions (though it won't do anything to diminish the utility of actionable terrorist intelligence).
posted by fenriq at 10:44 AM on December 8, 2005

all-seeing eye dog - an interobang?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 10:52 AM on December 8, 2005

posted by all-seeing eye dog at 10:56 AM on December 8, 2005

me likes.
posted by all-seeing eye dog at 10:57 AM on December 8, 2005

Good FPP and follow up athenian.

It is a pity actually that the Law Lords have such principles. Upper class snobs. Had they not been persuaded by their bed-wetting desires to cut and run from the enemy, and allow the collection of infomation by any means necessary, maybe a few more of these "enemy combatants" would actually get to see the inside of a courtroom.

As it is, they are held - in complete contravention to all that western democracies stand for - without charge, without counsel, without trial, without any legal rights other than those the Government decides they want to give them. As a practical matter, banning evidence - however wickedly obtained - from the courtroom means to me that fewer "enemy combatants" are ever going to see the outside of the secret prison.

Torture is a side show to that.
posted by three blind mice at 11:04 AM on December 8, 2005

if we don't start torturing people now, we could find ourselves in some kind of Orwellian dictatorship.

Was he trying to be funny? Because that'd be awesome. If he was serious, then it's still awesome, but in a totally different, and less funny way.
posted by chunking express at 11:10 AM on December 8, 2005


I still cannot fathom the reasoning behind adherance to torture. We do not, for instance, negotiate with terrorists. We don’t agree to their demands when they take hostages. Neither should we sacrifice our principles to the whims of circumstance.
If it’s worth torturing to save people from the hypothetical bomb, why is it not worth it to concede to the demands of the terrorists in order to stop the same hypothetical bomb?
A weapon of mass destruction in one of our cities about to go off, we catch someone involved in the conspiracy - are we completely unclear here? Do we not know what group he is in? What that groups demands might be?
It’s all horseshit. Either we’re willing to sacrifice the rule of law, abandon morality and revert to the Hobbesian' nature “red in tooth and claw” and admit it is simply might that makes right or we embody those principles that transcend the simple spans of our lives and recognize the greater good and take the fucking hit like our forefathers did. Anyone can do damage, kill, torture, it’s in our blood. It takes courage to sacrifice. As much courage to not torture someone in that “ticking clock” scenario as it does to not cave in to hostage taking in the knowlege that you are protecting not only lives, but liberty and the rule of law for the future.
I very much like this ruling and the adherance to the precepts of justice
Fuck Neil Livingston and his ‘ticking clock” bullshit in the ass.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:26 PM on December 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

Neither should we sacrifice our principles to the whims of THIS circumstance - should be. Getting a little worked up there. Hence the profanity.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:27 PM on December 8, 2005

Sidebar, your honor: I love the phrase "Law Lords" — I fully expect them to appear in the new season of Doctor Who.
posted by rob511 at 4:29 PM on December 8, 2005

Yes, it sounds much more hardcore than the Supeme Court.
posted by ryanrs at 7:19 PM on December 8, 2005

I hope you don't mind if I quote you librally in all my future discussions on terrorism. That was brilliant.
posted by Richard Daly at 8:29 PM on December 8, 2005

We do not, for instance, negotiate with terrorists.

That is a statement no more factual than "we do not torture". Examples abound.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:03 AM on December 9, 2005

“I hope you don't mind if I quote you librally in all my future discussions on terrorism” - posted by Richard Daly

Feel free. I ask only you emphasize the “fuck you in the ass” part to pro-torture advocates. It’s always struck me as odd that pro-torture folks recognize the utility of beating the shit out of someone to push your agenda forward, but are usually reticent to step outside and back it up. Strange, innit?
posted by Smedleyman at 12:16 PM on December 9, 2005

“We do not, for instance, negotiate with terrorists.
That is a statement no more factual than "we do not torture". “ - (

Well here’s the thing. It wasn’t meant as a statement of fact.

I agree it is the “official” stance. And I think it should be. But, yes, many governments including the U.S. have been known to capitulate.
It is however the best strategy.

I am not confusing the map with the reality here.
I am quite certain that I, my CO, other officers and men I’ve served with are very much in favor of not negotiating and treating these things as a tactical situation rather than a political one. For a multitude of reasons.The least of which is so terrorists begin to exclude it from their strategy toolbox because it doesn’t pay off.
(Without getting into a debate as to the validity of certain types of guerilla warfare, etc., which I’m fairly certain, given my open perspective, we could easily come to terms on)

That this cold realistic look at the nature of these events is interpreted by politicians and bulletfest fans as “hardarse, steely resolve” is not of my doing. As a point of fact, it is the best stance to combat a variety of terror type attacks.
Strongly depending of course on it’s execution -

/I’m thinking of for example the Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis in June 1995, or the Beslan school seige in Sept. 2004 - can ya tell I’m not a big Spaznuts, ‘scuse me, Spetsnaz fan? The Moscow theatre hostage crisis in Oct. 2002 is something of an exception. Parts of that were well done. But enough of the operation was abysmal (e.g. let’s not tell anyone what gas we used) to screw it up.
In opposition to that you have, say the Supreme Court of Justice Hostage Crisis in 1993 in Costa Rica where the hostages were freed through negotiation and the hostage takers were captured.
Or this year at Ennepetal where and Iranian national took over a busload of kids and was stopped (I believe it was by GSG 9 not the KSK), with no casualties.
/actually GSG9 has done a lot of nifty hostage and counter-terrorist work. For example nailing that asshole who wanted Sheikh Rahman (tried to bomb the WTC) released and hijacked a KLM flight in 1994 was exemplary work, they didn’t fire a shot.

Well, the reason GSG9 does such good work is because the German government tries not to armchair quarterback them.
But these are details.

The point being: I consider negotiation with terrorists during an event - not before or after - a failure. In the same way, torture is a failure.

Not only a failure of policy or a tactical failure, but a failure of the system to work. A failure of civilization. In neither case should we allow the saving of lives to disrail the rule of law.

I suppose I’m reiterating Ben Franklin and Jefferson, et. al - but there must be sacrifices for freedom. (It is unfortunate I feel the need to point out that what I mean by freedom is not aligned with the term bandied about by the Bush administration. One of the many things I mean by that word is to not be subject to the will of violent or powerful men merely because they are violent or powerful.)

Just as we may risk or even sacrifice the lives of hostages taken by terrorists so that they cannot by whim overrule the law and bend society to their will, so to must we sacrifice our desire to torture in order to save lives, because it does the same damage in the same way to the principles of justice.

This was my point. Not that in all ways and in all cases we don’t negotiate with terrorists.
Merely that those who espouse torture should reexamine how they look at capitulation to terrorists and how in both cases the damage done to society is the same.

But, y’know, I am pretty hardarse anyway*. I’ve probably left more bodies on the ground than service corporation international.
I would think that would lend credance to my argument in opposition to torture, not the other way round.

*plus my dick is huge.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:24 PM on December 9, 2005

Fairly well known stance...but:,2933,123439,00.html

And while I agree on the tactical level that you never “negotiate” - that is, never capitulate due to the behavior - I do agree (somewhat) with Cris Currie, President of the Washington Mediation Association (and Roger Fisher) that “the better our communication, the better our chances of exerting influence.”
This “not negotiating” with terrorists is often confused with on-scene capitulation.
I was referencing the latter due to common usage. But I do think we should negotiate as a general rule and I think it would cut down on terrorism, hostage taking, etc. etc.
If for example we decided to negotiate with anyone, it would lend less legitimacy to specific groups and less of an impetus to create an event to gain attention in the first place. This way no one has special status just because we open negotiations with them, it would be a neutral value occurance.
Rejection of negotiation creates impediments to solving the problem and changing the situation.
To again quote Currie: “We simply need to make it clear that a decision to negotiate does not mean acceptance of the other side’s behavior.”
Once the die is cast however, from my position, the bad behavior must be obviated in a prescribed manner. It can’t be arbitrary. You must consistiently not allow the goals of any given event to not be on the table. In fact the aim, at the tactical level, is to end the situation before negotiations are necessary. Before any roles are established, etc. And of course, before the news trucks show up. 90% of terrorism is the media, the other 90% is psychology. (To misquote Yogi Berra)
posted by Smedleyman at 2:46 PM on December 9, 2005

posted by Smedleyman at 2:46 PM on December 9, 2005

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