Alternatives to Torture

We live in a tough old world. As a recent film tries to tell you, it's possible that you will be snatched off the street tomorrow by people you don't know, bound and gagged and flown off to some far-distant part of the world where you can be interrogated. Oh, all right, then, we'll tell the truth. You'll be tortured.

Pain will be inflicted on you as a way of encouraging you to confess the crimes that you're planning, such as terrorist attacks on the Western world. This is all in the name of 'security', patriotism and anti-terrorism - all good stuff. If all goes well, you'll tell them what they need to know and lives will be saved.

That is, if you are a terrorist. Things start going wrong if you aren't. Let's imagine, purely for the sake of argument, that you aren't a terrorist, haven't been and don't plan to be. You're strung upside down and people you don't know and haven't been properly introduced to are beating the soles of your feet with iron bars. They ask you questions, and you hesitate, because you know you don't have any answers. In fact, as soon becomes clear, these people are pretty sure they already know the answers to the questions they're putting to you – they just want you to confirm their suspicions.

What do you do? At first you might figure they will come to their sense, realise you aren't a threat and let you go. If they don't seem willing to do that, you might come up with another plan: you'll admit anything they put to you. That way, at least they'll stop the pain. Of course they won't let you go either, but at least you might get a day in court and then you can plead your innocence. Trouble is, you've just admitted your guilt. Not to worry, you'll tell the court your story, tell them you only made an admittance so that they'd stop doing the bad things they were doing.

So they might believe you. But they won't. The record shows that people who admit their guilt – such as the Birmingham Six in Britain in the 1970s – and then retract their forced confessions on the grounds it was beaten out of them - aren't believed later. So, torture works. At least, if you are the person aiming is to find someone to admit to being guilty.

Like the Birmingham Six, you then have people you can blame for the bombing of civilians and the state can send them to prison and announce that justice has been done. In that case, unfortunately, as it emerged later, they got the wrong men. It took many years but it was later proved that they had nothing at all to do with the crime.

The judges had to let them go. But why? Why were they in jail? Because they'd admitted they had done it. Why? Why would anyone admit they were guilty unless they were? Because they were smacked around for days, deprived of sleep and threatened. This, in a civilised country like England. In any other part of the world it would be called 'inhumane and degrading treatment', in other words, torture. Not here.

We don't do torture in Britain, (we say.) But we did once. It was back in the time of Shakespeare and shortly after. Then we tortured witches, regularly. We know they were witches because they admitted they were witches. That's why they were then killed, because of all the evil things they admitted to doing, like consorting with the Devil and flying around on broomsticks.

Now here's the problem. No one does that sort of thing anymore, (at least, as far as we know). Oh sure, there are some people who call themselves White Witches and claim to mix potions and cast spells – but only to do good. So here's the issue: we live in a scientific age and think that talk of witchcraft is nonsense. No one can really fly around on a broom, (except in movies). But did they ever? If they did, then why can't we do it now? If they didn't – because it's impossible, we know – why did they ever say they did? We know they said they did, because we have the records.

Why would people say such a thing? Well, one reason might be because they were routinely tortured. That's how our ancestors extracted the confessions. Maybe, just maybe, there never have been people who can fly or cast bad spells. But that means – well, that the people who said so were in fact lying, for some reason. In order to stop the torture, perhaps. In the modern world it's different.

We know that terrorism exists, because we've seen it happen, and we know that terrorists are out there somewhere, planning it. The problem is, using torture, that we have no way of knowing – for sure – if the people who admit to it are being genuine, or lying, to save themselves pain. Ah, you say, but if only one life is saved – yes, well then, any amount of inflicted pain might seem justified. The problem with that is that we aren't being told if it's currently effective, for the sake of 'security'.

Well, sorry, but that doesn't add up. If our side uncovered a terrorist cell because we had a spy in their camp, then no, we wouldn't want to reveal the source and so ruin their placement. But if we torture information out of a person? Well, then we already have them as a prisoner. It does no harm to reveal who they are and what they've alleged, does it? So we should be seeing spy cells broken and terrorists arrested.

Regularly. Why aren't we? There could be one simple reason. Maybe the sad fact is that not a bit of useful information is coming from torturing detainees at this present time. The truth might possibly be that doing torture in the modern world is merely 'busy work', making it look as though we're fighting the threat of terrorism without actually doing anything useful – such as catching the real bad guys, perhaps by intelligent means.

After all, if we could do that, we wouldn't need to torture anyone, anymore. Is that an alternative?.

Mike Scantlebury is an Internet Author who asks questions. He hasn't any answers but he's written thrillers and spy novels and takes a interest in discussing international events. He's also arguing the future of publishing. You can join in the debate at his web site. Try http://www.PublishingisDead.com

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