Thursday, 18 October 2007

Movie Reviews | Rendition

I haven't seen the movie. The Strait (print edition) sniffs about "sanitised torture". On the whole, I would rather not see the alternative. I get really worried about people who watch movies like Syriana (pulling out fingernails with pincers). I have a nasty suspicion that some movie makers and movie viewers get off on this kind of sado-masochism. Mel Gibson in particular.

The point about torture is not just that it is illegal, immoral and corrupting of the people who do it. It does not provide any useful information. As people like Maher Arar and William Samson have testified, under torture, innocent people will confess to anything - just to make it stop. So I simply do not believe the officials who say that we "need" to torture suspects, because post 9/11 the threat of terrorism is so much greater. The use of extraordinary methods of interrogation now employed on a daily basis does not seem to be helping very much in resolving issues in Iraq, does it?

In every major enquiry into high profile cases, investigators have to deal with disturbed people who come forward and "confess" to crimes they could not possibly have committed. Innocent people have been jailed on all sorts of evidence that turns out after the event (sometimes long after) to have been tainted. All torture achieves is that every one that gets arrested ("round up the usual suspects") now becomes disturbed enough to confess. Indeed, that is what the CIA manuals show is the intention of these techniques - the breakdown of a personality. It does nothing to further the cause of finding out what has happened - and even less about what is going to happen. If you do lift the right person, his contacts will know that his or her knowledge is now compromised. That is why terrorists operate in small cells - so they can only implicate one or two other people. The interrogator should assume that anything the suspect now tells him about future plans will be changed by those left in play. The most successful counterintelligence is conducted by leaving the suspect in place but feeding him duff information. Britain used this strategy very successfully against the abwehr.

But the worst possible effect (additional to the damage to the people tortured) is that officially you have sanctioned and encouraged people who take pleasure in causing others pain. And since we have laws against many other kinds of deviant activity, I do not see that our society benefits from sanctioning - or encouraging - this particularly nasty kink.

Another review in the Guardian is a lot clearer (and it doesn't like the film either) that the torture is not "sanitised"

These torture scenes are grim. No punches are pulled. The technique of choice is waterboarding, and the film demonstrates how this is done for those of us who weren't quite sure. It is a quasi-drowning ordeal achieved by strapping the victim to a board, putting a hood over his head, tipping him back and then pouring water continuously on to his face so that the wet material slops down into his mouth and nostrils and he is unable to breathe, and overwhelmed with terror and disorientation. (Robert Harris, in his new thriller The Ghost, says that in 1947 a Japanese officer was convicted of using waterboarding on a US civilian and sentenced to 15 years' hard labour for a war crime. Harris also says that waterboarding victims generally last 14 seconds before giving in; the record is 150 seconds by the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a feat of endurance that reputedly won the grudging admiration of his CIA captors. I wasn't timing it, but in this movie Anwar manages around the 14-second standard.)

But does waterboarding get facts, foil plots and save lives? Corrine Whitman angrily maintains that it does, but Douglas quotes Portia in The Merchant of Venice; rendition victims "speak upon the rack,/ Where men enforced do speak anything."

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