This weekend saw the publication of two powerful opinion pieces on the futility of using torture as an interrogation tool. Writing in The (London) Times on Friday General Lord Guthrie, the former Chief of the UK Defense Staff, argued that the use of torture was “both illegal and dumb.” Drawing on Britain’s bitter experience using coercive interrogation tactics in Northern Ireland, Lord Guthrie continued:
“Western use of torture to counter terror has been a propaganda coup for al-Qaeda and a recruiting sergeant for its global jihad. Our hypocrisy has radicalised our enemies and corroded the power we base on our proclaimed values. We save more lives in the long term by rejecting torture than we do by perpetrating it.”
In addition to serving successively in two of Britain’s most senior military posts, Lord Guthrie spent almost a decade as an officer in Britain’s elite Special Air Service (SAS) during which period he served in Aden, the Gulf, Malaysia and East Africa. The SAS fulfils the same counterterrorist role as America’s Delta Force. Lord Guthrie also served in Northern Ireland with the Welsh Guards. The full article (Torture uses the body against the soul) can be accessed at www.timesonline.co.uk.
On Sunday the News in Review section of The New York Times featured an article by Ambassador Donald P. Gregg, a thirty year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency who served as the National Security Adviser to Vice-President George H. W. Bush during the Reagan administration.
Ambassador Gregg had been responsible for intelligence operations in ten Vietnamese provinces between 1971-72 and he described how his South Vietnamese counterpart had routinely tortured prisoners, producing a great deal of information much of which proved to be false. By contrast Ambassador Gregg’s team employed “more humane methods” and generated more accurate intelligence. He concludes:
“The key to successful interrogation is for the interrogator — even as he controls the situation — to recognize a prisoner’s humanity, to understand his culture, background and language. Torture makes this impossible.”
Ambassador Gregg’s article (Speaking with the Enemy) can be accessed at www.nytimes.com.
It is fashionable to portray calls for a return to due process, American values and human rights as a liberal cause. In reality, as the contributions from Lord Guthrie and Ambassador Gregg demonstrate, it is a cause that attracts a great deal of support from among professional military, law enforcement and intelligence personnel because they know effective counterterrorism is perfectly compatible with democratic principles.