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Torture: A history of hypocrisy

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We do not torture people, say the British authorities. In 2010 the former prime minister said so in February. The same year the Foreign Office said so in May. They have repeated it in April 2012 in the context of the extraordinary rendition cases: “The UK government’s policy is clear: we do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment for any purpose. We have consistently made clear our absolute opposition to such behaviour and our determination to combat it wherever and whenever it occurs.”

The Consolidated Guidance to Intelligence Officers on interviewing detainees uses the same standard formula: “We do not participate in, solicit, encourage or condone the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for any purpose”.

The head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, has said so: “We have nothing whatsoever to do with [torture]”.

We know in our hearts that we do not torture. It is something that is deeply etched on our collective psyche, part of our ancient legal tradition and an essential feature of our British values.

Indeed, so clear are we that we do not torture that we did not feel it necessary to abolish torture until 1988 – as a result of obligations under international human rights law.

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