Torture has and will always be both wicked and useless

Monday 15 December 2014


On the same day that America is officially revealed to have tortured terror suspects to death, the sworn enemy - Al Qaeda - announces that beheading 'damages the jihadist image' and must stop forthwith. No more decapitations, orders the terrorist group's field commander on the Arabian Peninsula. They're counter-productive - especially when videoed and posted on the internet.

So, one of the most ruthless organisations in history says it's possible to be TOO ruthless, and gets you a bad press into the bargain. Pretty much the same conclusion drawn by the Senate intelligence committee report into the suffering of prisoners in US camps. Waterboarding, forcing food into the rectum, cuffing people in excruciating positions for hours and days - it doesn't actually get you anywhere. Torquemada, the Spanish Inquisition's infamous torturer-in-chief, discovered that a few centuries back.

The lesson eventually (if reluctantly) drawn by the Spanish was that even their most ingenious sadism simply wasn't changing much anything out there on the ground. Catholicism stubbornly continued to splinter and divide anyway. In the end the Inquisition quietly gave up trying to terrorise 'heretics' into submission. It just wasn't working.

It's been the same throughout history. The Gestapo's treatment of captured French resistance fighters was unspeakable - but the underground continued to grow and by D-Day was flourishing, well-equipped, and effective.

Of course post 9/11 the CIA bluster has been that without torture (a word they refuse to use, although what they were doing was torture by anyone's definition) they wouldn't have acquired critical information about terrorist plots.

Baloney. The Senate report shows beyond a shred of doubt that most such 'information' was either invented simply to stop the agony, or pretty much useless rubbish. One fragment extracted under extreme duress does seem to have led to Osama Bin Laden's discovery and ex-judicial execution, but by then that was purely a matter of revenge. Bin Laden was yesterday's man with little or no active role in Al Qaeda.

Brutality against prisoners? Centuries of history proves that it's a waste of time. And in today's here and now, two utterly opposing belief systems have, in the very same week, reached that same timeless conclusion.

'Jihadi John' and his ISIS bunch of decapitation-obsessed psychopaths will not, of course concur. They're up to their armpits in blood and for them there can be no turning back. But the fact remains that they are not just morally wrong; they're tactically wrong too.

Which is why, eventually, they must lose.

Continue reading Richard & Judy's column, exploring the new Stephen Hawking film The Theory of Everything, plus comment on Baroness Jenkin's comments that 'the poor can't cook'.
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