Saturday, July 28, 2007

The price of torture

Today's Guardian has more evidence that America's attitude to torture is helping it lose the "war on terror". In addition to acting as a prime recruiting tool for terrorists, American torture also has another important consequence: it prevents other intelligence agencies from sharing information with them. And the example couldn't get any bigger:

"In 1998, SIS [MI6] believed that it might be able to obtain actionable intelligence that might enable the CIA to capture Osama bin Laden," the [UK Parliament's Intelligence and Security] committee says in its report. It adds: "Given that this might have resulted in him being rendered from Afghanistan to the US, SIS sought ministerial approval. This was given provided that the CIA gave assurances regarding humane treatment." British intelligence made a similar request in 1999, and obtained the same response from Whitehall

The CIA refused to give such an assurance, and so the intelligence was never provided. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Advocates of torture will no doubt see this as proving their case, and argue that the refusal of the British to "do what was necessary" and "get their hands dirty" resulted in bin Laden going free. But I'd take the opposite tack: it is the refusal of the US government to give credible assurances of basic standards of humane treatment - assurances necessary to prevent members of allied agencies from facing criminal charges for conspiracy to torture - which has harmed their cause. And given that the US supposedly shares a commitment to human rights and has signed numerous international instruments guaranteeing humane treatment, I really can't understand why they fail to do so.