Just writing that makes me feel like Mr Mackey in South Park saying "Drugs are bad, mmkay". There seems something wishy-washy, dripping-wet liberal and almost naive about thinking that torturing other human beings is wrong; I don't know how it came to be that there ever was debate about torture being a bad thing - perhaps I wrongly felt that, as a bleeding-heart woolly handwringer, it was one of those untouchable absolutes in the moral maze, like racism or murder, that was just a bad thing.
And yet, and yet... it almost gets to the point where you start questioning yourself about these things - where you think you're treading on a giant bear trap if you so much as intimate that torturing people is not only morally wrong, but practically useless. Whether it's the influence of programmes like 24, or a heritage of Hollywood that goes back way beyond Jack Bauer and chums (as we'll see in a minute), I don't know; but it's in people's minds nowadays that torturing people is sometimes or even all the time the right thing to do.
Look at this example from popular culture. I've only been able to find the Spanish dubbed version but the pictures speak for themselves. The tough grizzled cop played by Clint Eastwood needs to get information from the evil CND-badge-wearing killer played by Andy Robinson - a young girl's life is at stake. So how does he go about getting it? By torture, of course, with the victim all the time bleating about his so-called 'rights', then using the liberal system to get away with his crimes and having the evidence obtained under torture deemed inadmissable.
That's the scenario we're constantly meant to imagine - the 'ticking bomb' idea. And it's one that George W Bush is happy to create in his memoirs by saying that terror attacks were thwarted thanks to evidence obtained under torture - one that is happily chirped and repeated. What if torturing someone could save a life? Well, what if it couldn't? What if the vast majority of torture doesn't save lives, but actively ruins lives? What if torturing people leads to resentment and hatred that will cost many more lives? What if torturing people is not only morally wrong, but it also doesn't work, and makes the situation worse by engendering hostility among those people you are supposedly trying to 'help'? What if torturing people marks you out as morally bankrupt and means your enemies have even more reason to attack you? Why not put that alongside your ticking bomb and see how many chuckles you have?
Rachel North puts it like this:
Last month, Foreign Secretary David Milliband finally said that the war on terror is wrong, then this month he promptly found himself neck-highin the bloody aftermath of that particular eight-year demented orgy of self-justifying lies and violence, when appearing to attempt to hide the evidence of our government and security services' complicity in the torture of a British resident. Milliband actually claimed to a high court that there was a 'threat' by the US to withdraw co-operation in intelligence matters if documents about Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohammed were revealed, then back-tracked, leading to furious demands that the documents about the torture be released after all.
Well, of course they should be. And whilst we are at it, let's get all the horrors and injustices out into the open, have a proper independent inquiry into it all, apologise profusely, say 'never again' and start anew, turn over a new leaf and try to learn some lessons from this horrendous mess. Nobody can say there isn't the appetite for it, and it certainly wouldn't kill us to try it. But they'd never have the guts to try, this government, I expect, even as the tortured Binyam Mohammed steps back onto the soil of the UK, the land he took refuge in as a teenager and shames them all by having refused to die quietly of madness and despair thousands of miles away.
I don't know what he was planning when he left the UK a few years ago. If there was evidence enough to charge him with a crime when he was picked up and then give him a fair trial, then that is what should have happened. There is no excuse for - and no point in - torturing him, or anyone else. None. Ever. Torture is a complete waste of time as well as degrading and damaging us all when we condone it, or outsource it to people who will wield scalpels and tighten ropes whilst asking questions our spies prepared earlier. I can say this, and I wish I didn't have to say it, but when you are being tortured, tied up, humiliated, beaten, put in fear of your life and your sanity, you will say and do absolutely anything to get it to stop. You will say anything, tell any lie. That is the way it is and the way it will always be.
Torture ruins everyone. The people who suffer it, and the people who do it. It's all very well to try and defend it with your ticking bomb scenarios and your Jack Bauers and Harry Callaghans doing the noble torture all in a good cause, but that's not the way it ever actually is, and that's not the truth, and it demeans everyone to pretend that's what is really going on. Torture is wrong - always wrong. It feels almost ridiculous to have to say these things, that there is a debate to be had at all, but apparently there is. Call me stupid, naive, whatever, I don't care. But don't give me this 'ticking bomb' bullshit any more.