There is an alternative to torture, of course there is. It's called 'being nice to people' and giving them things. Before you dismiss such an idea as crazy and misguided, it's worth remembering that it has been tried quite recently, and it achieved favourable results. I'm referring to the situation in Iraq, just a few short years ago. At that point, the Americans had drawn up a list of the Most Wanted, and had put a price on each one of their heads. Mr Saddam, you may recall, was top of the list and the figure was twenty five million dollars.
When someone tipped off the authorities that the great man was hiding in a hole in the ground, no doubt the cash was paid over. After all, that was the aim - to find the tyrant, alive. Ah, you say, but we know all about Rewards. They worked in the Wild West, over a hundred years ago. Outlaws like Billy the Kid had a price on his head. Eventually he was tracked down by Marshall Pat Garret, as a recent film shows.
Right, so how many people were tortured then - in an effort to find out where the bad young man was hiding? Well, none. The alternative - paying for information, not squeezing it out of people in pain - was equally effective and consistently produced results. Nobody saw any need to use torture to track down gangs, gangsters and cowboys on the run in those days. Strange, then, that in these modern and enlightened times, we seem to have forgotten the lessons of the past. When it comes to spies and terrorists, we have lost the imagination we once had. We don't wave a chequebook in their face, to those people down there in Guantanamo Bay, we wave a rubber cosh.
And we don't tempt them with an electronic transfer of funds, we inflict the pain of an electric shock. Does it work? Well, there's two answers to that. From the government, the answer seems to be a consistent 'yes'.
That's the first answer. When was that then, you may well ask? When did that happen? Nobody knows, is the second answer. Well, strictly speaking, it's 'We can't tell you', but hey, that's the same thing. Sorry, but it sure is a topsy-turvy world in counter-espionage, the 'alternate universe' of spying.
The torturers always manage to look sinister and mysterious and tell you that their system works, they're just not willing to give you any details that might justify the allegations they make. Who knows, if you found out what they know, then maybe they'd be forced to make you the next victim. Anything else won't work, they say. There's no mileage in trying to bribe these fanatics, we're told. Their families are back in the home country and would be terrorised by the other terrorists still living there.
Okay, so logically what it would need is for the suspect you've got in custody, plus all his relatives, to be relocated - new names, new homes. Hey, that doesn't sound impossible, and it could all be done for a few millions, far less than the disruption caused by terrorism itself. There's also one major payoff. Torturers will tell you that the trick is to get the person being interrogated to a point where they give up and realise they're not going to escape. At that point they tell you everything. Unfortunately, by the time you've checked on whether the info is worthwhile or not, it's too late to do anything about it, because you prisoner has given up - just like you want - and died, usually.
If they realise that, if they know they're going to die, then they might as well lie, mightn't they? No, one big advantage of bribing instead of paining, is that the suspect is still alive, (even if in hiding). If what they told you was wrong, in fact, if you've got any complaints at all, you can go and see the person and remonstrate with them. If you're irate at the bribery not working, you can go back to Plan A and get the thumbscrews out. What have you lost? If you chose the former route, (the more usual 'modern' example), there's no second chance, ever. Not very smart, is it? So, money. There's a suggestion for the anti-terrorism units all over the world.
I don't expect it to be popular, because of course, there's another item on the agenda, isn't there? Torturing 'suspected' terrorists is, first of all, a lot of fun for the person holding the whip or the electrode. They can get a big kick out of inflicting pain. Ever tried it? It's great, apparently.
Second of all, it makes the whole counter-terrorism thing seem important. Hell, if your government is telling you that you have the right to skin someone alive, then you must be a pretty important person, right? And the work you're doing must be Top Priority too, eh? Yes, that's the reality of it all. Torture is self-justifying. It's so awful that it must be right, otherwise why would any sane, sensible, educated person take part in it, support it, or condone it? It's bad, right? And you're only allowed to do bad things if there's a good reason. So there must be a good reason, mustn't there? What if there's not? What if all the torture committed since 9/11 hasn't produced that alleged long list of names, phone numbers, and leads that makes it all worth doing and justifiable? What if the entire top-heavy, administrative enterprise isn't worth a damn? Well, let's not go there, let's not think about! Because that would mean - ooops, our government, and the governments of our allies, has been involved in inflicting inhuman treatment on people who've never even made it into a court of law - for what? To make themselves feel good, look important and justify their salaries.
Not much in the way of a 'good' reason, is it?.
Mike Scantlebury likes to argue with people. Based in Manchester, England, the home of opposition for centuries, he launches books, articles and educational material out at the world through the magic of the internet. Tune into his world and see if everything he says isn't cantakerous nonsense, or more like the things you thought yourself - but didn't say. http://www.mikescantlebury.biz