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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  1. A rotten debate in the state of Denmark « World Without Torture
  2. Use of evidence obtained through torture perpetuates the problem « World Without Torture

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