by AHLAM CHEMLALI
RECENT STUDIES have shown that torture has been reported in 141 countries, three-quarters of the world. Which evidently means that torture is thriving. Torture is thriving because, rather than respecting the law, many governments are either actively using torture or turning a blind eye to its practice. With torture being so widespread we have to accept that we too often wrongly and mistakenly only associate torture to non-democratic states, which is clearly far from the truth.
For many of the countries I have worked in, such as Kenya and the Philippines, torture is a widespread and routine practice in police stations. In Morocco and Egypt, courts often rely on confessions people have given while being tortured. In Uganda and Bangladesh, beatings and mock executions are just some of the treatments people face in detention.
Forced confessions are used to meet the demanding requirements for a high detection rate and because the police have not learned new methods of investigation. Routine torturing by the police is used to show authority and instil fear amongst both potential criminals and the public in general. This is especially prevalent in Asia, Africa, Latin-America and the Middle East. In other places torture is used as a threat for extortion purposes. We see this in many democratic countries around the globe, from Tanzania and Jordan to Liberia and Bangladesh — where almost 70% of the torture committed is by police.
Almost anyone taken in to custody is at risk of torture – regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or politics. But it is clear that some of us are in more danger than others. As with all human rights abuses, if you are poor, or belong to a group suffering discrimination it is more likely you will face torture and you will have fewer ways of defending yourself. This is also why slums and poor urban areas are increasingly becoming hubs for violence, ill-treatment, threats and extortion, often coming from state authorities.
Despite all this, I often hear that torture is justifiable, and that it is primarily terror-suspects that risk torture. That is an association that has no relation to reality. From both research and my own international work, I find again and again that torture affects the most vulnerable groups — some of which are politically active or belong to a persecuted minority. But the majority of them are just poor people living in slums — often innocent or in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Still, torture is legitimised as a tool in “The War on Terror” despite research studies and evidence-based facts clearly indicating that torture is not a more efficient form of intelligence gathering than other legal interrogation techniques and frequently leads to false confessions. In other words, torture as an interrogation technique does not work and its supposed positive consequences are not substantiated in reality. On the contrary, torture triggers a series of negative long-term effects. It has a devastating impact on the victims, leads to further radicalisation and has a negative impact on society as a whole. Torture is immoral and promoting the use of torture is illegal as well as counter-productive on so many levels.
These pro-torture arguments are increasingly coming from legislators, policymakers and politicians around the world in the post 9/11 environment where our societies have been consumed by the question of whether torture is acceptable under extreme circumstances. The “ticking bomb” metaphor has regularly been employed by various figures in the US as an argument to justify the use of torture in interrogations. It is an argument that has been used to justify torture in a set of very extreme and detailed circumstances. An example of a “ticking time bomb” scenario could look like this:
A terrorist group has planted a small nuclear device with a timing mechanism in London and it is about to go off. If it does it will kill thousands and make a large part of the city uninhabitable for decades. One of the terrorists has been captured by the police, and he has the info on location of the device then the police can disarm it and thereby save the lives of thousands. There is no other way to avoid catastrophe; evacuation of the city, for example, cannot be undertaken in the limited time available.
The “ticking bomb scenario” is an unrealistic hypothetical and wholly unconvincing argument in favour of torture that relies on assumptions that do not stand up to scrutiny in the real world.
Still, torture is an ever remerging subject for debate. In the United States recently the republican candidate Donald Trump stated that torture works and, “I will bring back waterboarding, and I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding”.
I doubt that Trump has ever been waterboarded himself, nor has even witnessed the technique. Sadly, but not surprisingly, Trump has a lot of supporters and like-minded sympathisers all over the world. The remaining question is: when will morality, research and facts conquer fear, ignorance and war-mongering?