Posts Tagged information

Why the US must release the torture report

The world needs to know CIA torture was pointless, thus public release is imperative

Current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta — former CIA Director during the mission that led to Osama bin Laden's death — denies that torture produced the information leading to bin Laden's whereabouts. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, available through Flickr Fresh Conservative, Creative Commons License.

The four-year long investigation on CIA’s detention and torture practices after 9/11 by the US Senate Intelligence Committee is close to an end.

Many of the same old questions are resurfacing, bringing the debate of torture effectiveness to the fore yet again.

Did the harsh “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by CIA produce counter-terrorism breakthroughs or no more than wrong leads? Could information have been obtained in other ways?

According to Reuters, “the backers of such techniques, […] maintain they have led to the disruption of major terror plots and the capture of al Qaeda leaders.”

Most of the speculation around this question though, seems to be confirming that the Bush administration made an enormous mistake by choosing to ignore the immense body of knowledge disproving the effectiveness of torture.

To make it clear, the report needs to be made public. Activists and human rights organisations, including the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, are therefore pressing for its release.

 

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A rotten debate in the state of Denmark

Both former Prime Minister (and current Secretary-General of NATO) Anders Fogh Rasmussen and current Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt have publicly stated their support for the use of information obtained through torture, despite its prohibition in the UN Convention against Torture, to which Denmark has ratified. Left photo by Jose Sena Goulao, and right photo by Arbeiderpartiet; both available via Flickr through Creative Commons License.

The Danish debate on torture has continued this week since our first post on the matter. And it has revealed a disturbing level of acceptance of torture at all levels of society – from the general public to heads of state – within this Scandinavian nation.

While many are retracting and doubling-back on public statements, Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt has agreed* that Denmark may use information obtained through the use of torture.

Earlier this week, journalists asked Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Danish Prime Minister and current Secretary-General of NATO, about his opinion on the debate – should Denmark use information obtained through torture by third-parties? Despite all NATO states having ratified the UN Convention against Torture, which clearly prohibits this practice, Rasmussen invoked the faulty “ticking bomb” argument and stated that it may be a necessary practice to fight terrorism.

IRCT Secretary-General Brita Sydhoff found that abhorrent.

“This is nonsense. In your position, you really should know better than this, Mr Rasmussen. Courts around the world know it. Intelligence services know it. The armies in many countries deplore its use. Torture is counterproductive, harmful and it creates victims who often suffer for a lifetime. Torture solves nothing.

“While the “ticking bomb” scenario continues to be invoked in such arguments, it has, countless times been discredited [PDF].

“Moreover, torture is illegal. At all times. In all places. The use of information obtained through torture is also illegal under the terms of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which Denmark along with all other NATO countries, has ratified.

“If you don’t understand the Convention, or the rationale behind it, I, and my colleagues throughout our worldwide movement of 150 rehabilitation centres in over 70 countries, can help you. Our doors are always open to you for dialogue. They can also show your our work with survivors of this deplorable act.”

Everyone has begun weighing in. Danish Conservative Party spokesman Tom Benke stated that Denmark’s police force should be ready to use torture if necessary. He later amended this statement.

Shockingly – and most disappointingly -  these state officials are not alone in this opinion. A Gallup poll this week found only 57% of Danes say torture should never be used to obtain information. In 2004, 68% of Danes agreed with that statement; this is a disturbing trend, but not so surprising given the mixed messages coming from those in positions of power.

*Note: Almost all links are in Danish.

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Denmark may use information obtained through torture

Danish Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal had to step back from comments he made promising that the Danish state would never use information from torture. As such, the status quo remains, and Denmark's intelligence services may use such information. Photo available through Creative Commons license, via Flickr.

Information obtained through torturing suspects in other countries will from now on be banned in investigations undertaken by Danish authorities,” said Danish Foreign Minister, Villy Søvndal, in an interview on Sunday morning to national Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende.

The very same evening, Søvndal retracted this in a joint statement with the Danish Minister for Justice, Morten Bødskov in which they stated that Danish authorities must be able to exchange information with countries that “use methods of interrogation that may contradict Danish principles of justice” – in other words information that has been obtained via torture.

Under Denmark’s former government, the Danish police intelligence unit (PET) was permitted to use information obtained through torture under the guise of anti-terror policies.

For a brief moment, following Søvndal’s statement, it seemed that this policy would come to an end, However, the withdrawal of Søvndal’s initial statement leaves Denmark with the status quo whereby information obtained by torture can be used in investigation procedures by the Danish authorities.

Denmark has often been described as a country at the forefront in the fight against torture, not least because the Danish founder of IRCT, and it’s local member centre the RCT, Inge Genefke, devoted her life to fight this horrific practice.

Today, the hypothetical “ticking bomb” scenario, a fantasy of Hollywood movies, was recited in Danish newspapers as an argument in support of the use of torture. The legal spokesman from the Danish Conservative Party, Tom Behnke, said: “If the intelligence unit from a rogue state informs the Danish police intelligence unit (PET) that a terror attack has been planned against the Danish Opera then PET, of course, has to be able to use this information”.

The anti-torture movement has countered the “ticking bomb” scenario with facts and good reason countless times. It should be commonly understood by now, especially among high-level politicians, that information obtained through torture is completely and utterly unreliable. The pain and suffering that torture inflicts upon a person will make him/her say anything to end the pain; additionally, the anguish and distress during the torture disrupts a persons’ sense of reality and truth so that the victim cannot differentiate between the two, as Danish IRCT member centre RCT also stated today.

Accepting information obtained through torture effectively legitimises the regimes around the world that maintain their grip on power and terrorise their populations through the use of torture. To give a current high-profile example, it is tantamount to legitimising Assad’s Syria.

If any thing good can be said about this developing news story, it is that a renewed debate on Denmark’s slippery position on the use of torture has gained the renewed interest of the public. In case people didn’t know before, they know now: yes, Danish authorities may accept evidence obtained through torture. And yes, this contradicts the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT), to which Denmark is a signatory. Should there be doubts about the applicability of this particular debate, Article 15 specifically stipulates that:

Each State Party shall ensure that any statement, which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings.”

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