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Michael Ignatieff supports "Regulated Torture"

  Michael Ignatieff supports

Michael Ignatieff.

Liberal leadership candidate in his own words legitimates oppressive neo-fascism and racism. Michael Ignatieff has claimed to be a political disciple of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. As this article confirms, and as Mr. Trudeau's son Justin corroborates, Mr. Ignatieff is in no way a political disciple of Trudeau.

Mr. Trudeau was a Great Canadian, who embraced a progressive vision of Canada as a 'Just Society'. Mr. Trudeau pursued an unswerving commitment to human rights, peace and Canadian independence from the United States. Mr. Ignatieff is simply a "parachute" candidate of U.S. corporations and 'neo-cons' interests linked to Mr. Bush, which seek to control and destroy Canada.

by Michael Ignatieff

A democratic state is justified in violating a basic commitment to human dignity...

The abuse of Iraqi prisoners, apparently by both British and American service personnel, is a mirror in which we are all forced to gaze at ourselves, at the kind of society we are, at the people who serve in our name, at the counter-insurgency war we are waging in Iraq and what evils it has led us to countenance. It is bad enough that the photographs depict torture. Worse, they show us men and women serving in our name who seem not to have the faintest idea that they are defending a liberal democracy whose every value stands opposed to the humiliations they practised with such indecent pleasure.

To take the measure of Abu Ghraib, we need to widen out our reflections, think about the moral nihilism of torture and why - this is the most painful question - torture remains a temptation, even a supposed necessity, in a war on terror.

Neo-fascistic "National Security" considerations are more important than vital human rights

Nobody denies that the physical torture or repeated and degrading psychic humiliation of individuals amounts to an ultimate violation. There is no doubt about the moral facts. The question is whether democratic survival or national security could override the overwhelming claim that these facts usually make upon the allegiance of a liberal democracy. Those responsible for Abu Ghraib will claim they were just following orders, and behind these orders stands the imperative of national security, the necessity of "breaking down" suspects who pose a direct threat to "coalition forces" and beyond them the society that has sent them to Iraq.

Those who defend torture would insist that their choice is not nihilistic - denying the ultimate value of human beings - but rather motivated by a value-filled concern to save innocent human life. Those, on the other hand, who insist that torture is an ultimate form of nihilism believe that a majoritarian justification for torture amounts to a failure to understand what is special, inviolable, and worthy of ultimate respect in a human being.

There is not much doubt that liberal democracy's very history and identity is tied up in an absolute prohibition of torture. The elimination of torture from the penal process - beginning with Voltaire's campaign on behalf of Jean Calas (a Protestant textile merchant tortured to death in 1762 for the alleged murder of his son), and Cesare Beccaria's great Enlightenment essay, On Crimes and Punishments (1764) - has always been seen as an intrinsic feature of the story of European liberty itself. In this story, constitutional freedoms matter positively because they enable men and women to choose the lives they want to live, and matter negatively because they help eliminate needless and unjustifiable cruelty from the exercise of government.

Liberal democracy stands against torture because it stands against any unlimited use of public authority against human beings, and torture is the most unlimited, the most unbridled form of power that one person can exercise against another. The United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which all liberal democracies, including the U.S., are signatories, forbids it under any circumstances and does not allow the prohibition to be derogated even in conditions of national emergency.

Since 'killing 'takes places anyway in wars in relation to the "War on Terrorism", then torture that does not kill, is okay

Yet the matter does not end here. There are those who find it peculiar that liberal democracy proscribes torture and cruel and unusual punishment, but not lawful killing in war. How can one object to the torture of persons to secure valuable information for reasons of state, and not object to killing them? Both could simply be regarded as acceptable lesser evils, forced on unwilling liberal democracies by the exigencies of their own survival.

...Extremism via oppression is justifiable in defence of "freedom" in a "liberal society"

But the cases are not the same. A liberal society that would not defend itself by force of arms might perish, while a liberal society that refused to torture is less likely to jeopardise its collective survival. Besides, there is a moral difference between killing a fellow combatant, in conformity to the laws of war, and torturing a person. The first takes a life; the second abuses one. It seems more legitimate to ask a citizen to defend a state by force of arms and, if necessary, to kill in self-defence or to secure a military objective, than it does to ask him to inflict degrading pain face to face. On this reading of a democratic moral identity, it may be legitimate to kill in self-defence, but not to engage in cruelty.

Another way to seize the distinction between torture and killing in combat would be to observe that in combat pain or death is inflicted on those whose job it is to do the same. In the act of torture, pain and possible death are inflicted on a person who is disarmed and helpless. This is a relevant distinction, but it fails to capture the potential dangerousness of disarmed and helpless subjects. The knowledge they possess may pose a mortal danger, if not to the survival of democratic society itself, then at least to large numbers of its citizens.

Because this is so, many democracies nominally committed against torture have felt themselves compelled to torture in the name of necessity and national security. The French in Algeria, the Israelis in the occupied territories, and now American CIA and Special Forces interrogators in the war on terror have all been accused of torture. As for the last of these cases, there are denials that the methods involved constitute torture. The interrogation methods of which the Americans have been accused since 9/11 were, until the latest round of allegations this month, held to include nothing worse than sleep deprivation, permanent light or permanent darkness, disorienting noise and isolation. If this were true, if interrogation remained free of physical duress or cruelty, it would amount to coercion, rather than torture, and there might be a lesser evil justification for it. The grounds would be that isolation and disorientation that stopped short of physical or psychological abuse might gain the authorities vital information about ongoing terrorist operations.

Yet, as well as the rash of recent allegations of torture in Iraq by U.S. servicemen, there have been unexplained deaths in captivity in interrogation centres. Because the authorities are not disclosing anything, we do not know what is happening to the numberless captives taken either in Afghanistan, in anti-terrorist sweeps in Pakistan, or in the post-conflict operations in Iraq. There are also allegations of rendition, the handing over of terrorist suspects to intelligence officials in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and other countries where media and judicial oversight of interrogation methods is likely to be cursory. Rendition, it need hardly be said, is a violation of the Convention Against Torture, which outlaws extradition to any country where torture is suspected to be a state practice.

Given the uncertainty about the facts, it would seem essential for Congress to insist on the right to tour detention facilities, to hold interviews with detainees in camera, and to disclose the information they get in closed session, so as to keep interrogation techniques under democratic scrutiny. Persons detained by a democracy ought not to forgo all due process rights, whatever their nationality, conduct, or the circumstances of their capture.

If a democracy wishes to keep physical torture out of its interrogation rooms, it has to grant detainees access to legal counsel and the possibility of judicial review. While it may compromise interrogations if detainees secure access to counsel immediately, they must have access within a short period of time. At all times, the identities and whereabouts of detainees must be available to judges and legislators, in camera if need be.

Subjecting detention to every possible form of legislative and judicial scrutiny is one way to prevent legitimate interrogation, involving isolation and some non-physical stress, from turning into outright torture. But it has been argued that keeping to this line is bound to be futile in so-called ticking-bomb cases, where torture may seem to be the only way to extract information necessary to save innocent civilians from imminent attack. In these cases, majoritarian interest would seem to trump rights and dignity claims. Law professor Alan Dershowitz has argued that the temptation to use torture in such a case might be so strong that whatever we might think about torture in the abstract, the pressure to use it might be overwhelming.

In defence of "regulated torture"...

The issue then becomes not whether torture can be prevented, but whether it can be regulated. Dershowitz suggests that instead of trying to maintain an unrealistic ban on torture, the US should regulate it. Police authorities needing to torture a suspect would apply to a judge for a "torture warrant" that would set limits to the type and duration of pain. Limitations on the admissibility of evidence extracted under duress would continue to apply, but the information could be used to prevent impending attacks. Anyone found torturing outside the terms of the warrant would be guilty of a criminal offence.

This legalisation of torture seeks to prevent it from becoming a first resort of interrogators in terrorist and criminal cases as well. The proposal seeks to bring the rule of law into the interrogation room and keep it there. All this is well-intentioned, but as an exercise in the lesser evil it seems likely to lead to the greater.

Legalisation of physical force in interrogation will hasten the process by which it becomes routine. The problem with torture is not just that it gets out of control, not just that it becomes lawless. It inflicts irremediable harm on both the torturer and the prisoner. It violates basic commitments to human dignity, and this is the core value that a war on terror, waged by a democratic state, should not sacrifice, even under threat of imminent attack.

It might be argued that such commitments to dignity are a luxury when a state is fighting for its life, but the Israeli case shows that a democratic state engaged in a war with terror can still maintain them. The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled on the issue of torture, arguing that extreme shaking of suspects, and holding them in chairs, tipped forward, for long periods of time, are violations of dignity that cannot be allowed, even in a state under threat. The court also ruled that no regulation of the practice could make it acceptable. As for the defence of necessity, the court was prepared to accept necessity as a plea in mitigation, but not as a justification or an excuse.

In this formulation, the court sought to reconcile an absolute prohibition against torture with an acknowledgment that, in rare and extreme cases, a reputable interrogator might find physical duress unavoidable. It accepted there had been cases, in Israeli history, where physical methods of interrogation had saved lives.

Torture is probably the hardest case in the ethics of the lesser evil. A clear prohibition comes up against a utilitarian case also grounded in a dignity claim, namely the protection of innocent lives. In adjudicating this conflict, we must stress, first, that while conscientious people may disagree as to whether torture might be admissible in cases of necessity, all will agree that torture can never be justified as a general practice. The problem lies in identifying the justifying exceptions and defining what forms of duress stop short of absolute degradation of an interrogation subject.

"Permissible" forms of Torture

Permissible duress might include forms of sleep deprivation that do not result in harm to mental or physical health, and disinformation that causes stress. Impermissible duress might include any physical coercion or abuse, any involuntary use of drugs and the deprivation of basic food, water, medicine and rest necessary for survival, together with permanent denial of access to counsel.

As with all attempts to distinguish lesser from greater evils, this definition of the line between permissible and impermissible interrogation, between coercion and torture, will strike some as permitting too little and others as allowing too much. Those who think it allows too much probably underestimate just how important accurate and timely information can be in a war on terror, and just how resistant terrorist suspects can be. Those who think this distinction between coercion and torture allows too little will want to know why the line should be drawn at physical abuse in cases where extreme physical duress might save lives. Here the case to be made would be practical and ethical.

Neo-Fascist techniques...

On the practical side, there is some evidence that physical duress is unnecessary where interrogators are skilled and persistent. There is also the fact that those who are subjected to physical torture, when not actually broken psychologically, usually conceive undying hatred for their torturers. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood, tortured in the aftermath of the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, conceived just such a hatred, both for the Egyptian regime and for its strategic ally, the U.S. Torture may help, if not to create terrorists, then to harden them in their hostility to the state responsible for their suffering.

"Dispose" the tortured....

One way around this problem, obviously, is to dispose of the tortured, to prevent their returning as threats. Once torture was routinised in Chile and Argentina in the 1970s, it was soon followed by disappearances, as the military sought to dispose of the evidence by killing its victims. In Argentina, thousands of torture victims were thrown, sometimes dead sometimes alive, from aircraft into the ocean. As a practical matter, therefore, once a state begins to torture, it soon finds itself required to murder to eliminate the problem of releasing hardened and embittered enemies into the general population. Once torture becomes state practice, it entrains further consequences that can poison the moral reputation and political legitimacy of a state.

Avoid "Phsyical" toruture, in favour of other forms of "regulated" torture

A further problem with physical torture is that it inflicts damage on those who perpetrate it as well as those who are forced to endure it. Any liberal democratic citizen who supports the torture of terrorist suspects in ticking-bomb cases must accept responsibility for the psychological damage done to victim and interrogator.

Torture exposes agents of a democratic state to the ultimate moral hazard. The most plausible case for an absolute ban on physical torture relates precisely to this issue of moral hazard. No one should have to decide when torture is or is not justified, and no one should be ordered to carry it out. An absolute prohibition is legitimate because in practice it relieves public servants from the burden of making intolerable choices.

If we are to understand the moral hazard at stake for everyone involved, it is worth listening to the testimony of one of torture's victims. Jean Amery, a Belgian resistant, was arrested in 1943 for distributing tracts in German urging soldiers of the German occupation to desert. He was tortured by the SS in a Belgian jail before being sent to Auschwitz. Amery's hands were bound behind his back and he was suspended by a hook from the ceiling until his arms were pulled out of their sockets. His captors beat him with a whip, seeking to extract information about his companions in the Resistance. Amery survived but he later wrote that a tortured man always stays tortured. The experience leaves scars that no state of necessity or social peril can justify. Indeed, Amery argued that, worse than the memory of the pain was the moral shock of seeing other human beings reducing him to a carcass of meat. The experience destroyed his trust: "Someone who has been tortured is never capable of being at home in the world again."

Amery was not able to write about his experiences until 20 years later and, like his friend and fellow inmate at Auschwitz, Primo Levi, he took his own life. We cannot think of his fate without at least considering that he was right: the experience destroyed the trust necessary for living among fellow human beings.

Amery also insisted that torture should be viewed not in individual terms as the psychosexual aberration of particular torturers but as a key to the identity of the society responsible for it. He argued that torture was not an incidental feature of the Third Reich but the essence of its view of human beings. By extension, the same premise is true of Saddam Hussein's Iraq or North Korea. For these societies, the practice of torture is definitional of their very identity as forms of state power.

For torture, when committed by a state, expresses the state's ultimate view that human beings are expendable. This view is antithetical to the spirit of any constitutional society whose raison d'etre is the control of violence and coercion in the name of human dignity and freedom.

An instrumental "regulated" torture should support pre-fomulated political goals

We should have faith in this constitutional identity. It is all that we have to resist the temptations of nihilism, but it is not nothing. It is the paramount duty of political leaders in a democracy under attack to keep the forces of order intently focused on the political requirement of maintaining legitimacy. The only cure for nihilism is for liberal democratic societies to insist that force is legitimate only to the degree that it serves defensible political goals. This implies a constant exercise of due diligence and democracies must enforce such rules by dismissing from service any of the carnivores who disgrace the society they are charged to protect. We should remember that liberal democracy has been crafted over centuries precisely in order to combat the temptations of nihilism, to prevent violence from becoming an end in itself. Thus, terrorism does not present us with a distinctively new temptation. This is what our institutions were designed for, back in the 17th century: to regulate evil means and control evil people. The chief ethical challenge with relation to terrorism is relatively simple - to discharge duties to those who have violated their duties to us.

Defend "liberal democracy" against "terrorists" by accepting "regulated" torture which extinguishes human rights

We have to do this because we are fighting a war whose essential prize is preserving the identity of liberal society itself and preventing it from becoming what terrorists believe it to be. Terrorists seek to strip off the mask of law to reveal the nihilist heart of coercion within, and we have to show ourselves and the populations whose loyalty we seek that the rule of law is not a mask but the true image of our nature. This is an edited extract from one of six Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh. They are published as "The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror", Edinburgh University Press.

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