We can't afford moral certainty about torture.
This is part of a thought-provoking op-ed piece by the Telegraph's Janet Daley. Full article here.
As a diversion from remonstrating with his Chinese hosts over their lapses on human rights, David Cameron took a moment last week to bring the subject closer to home. Responding to George Bush’s claim that the practice of waterboarding was justified because it had averted major terrorist attacks on British targets, Mr Cameron said that he thought torture was wrong and that “we ought to be very clear about that”. Then he added, “And I think we should also be clear that [the information you get from torture] is likely to be unreliable.” He elaborated on these points by explaining that “there is both a moral reason for being opposed to torture – and Britain doesn’t sanction torture – but secondly, I think there’s also an effectiveness thing…”
So Mr Cameron’s repudiation of Mr Bush rested on two propositions: that a) the British government was unequivocally opposed to torture (of which waterboarding was a form), and that b) torture didn’t produce anything useful. But why, if you maintain the first part as an inviolable principle (“Torture is never acceptable”), should there be any need to argue for the second? What point is there in discussing what Mr Cameron calls the “effectiveness thing” at all?
It is not only the Prime Minister who has issued this peculiar, two-pronged rejection of the Bush claims. Official British spokesmen have been jamming up television studios over the past week to reiterate the message that, in the words of Sir John Sawers, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service: “Torture is abhorrent and illegal under any circumstances and we have nothing to do with it.” But these forthright moral assertions were inevitably followed by an insistence that no terrorist plots against London were ever proved to have been prevented by evidence derived from such techniques. (Note in passing: it would be almost impossible to prove that an attack had been averted in this way. Even the confession by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of 9/11, that he had planned attacks on Big Ben and Canary Wharf of exactly the kind that Mr Bush described, is dismissed as unreliable by those who espouse this position.)