Now or never: The use of torture must be stopped

As liberal democracies, there are many values that countries such as the UK and the USA are expected to uphold. What we consider to be basic rights and freedoms, such as the rule of law, civil rights, and political freedoms, are merely fantasy for many across the globe.

However, in recent history, we have seen that even so-called liberal democracies, such as as the United States, can toss the very same rights they claim to uphold out of the window using loopholes and by abusing their position as world superpowers. This can be seen within the last decade at Guantanamo Bay, where President Bush vetoed legislation banning the CIA from using torture, allowing them to carry out practises such as waterboarding unimpeded.

Torture is often portrayed as something that is necessary for the survival of the nation, or even democracy itself, in some popular media. Whilst watching 24, an action show from Fox, I was surprised to see how often torture was positively portrayed. Often, there would be a time-limited situation where evidence obtained by using ‘enhanced interrogation’, a euphemism for torture favoured even by President Bush’s administration, would be used to save the day from yet another terrorist.

But is there any truth in the effectiveness of torture?

The answer may surprise you.

According to respected academics in the field, such as Shane O’Mara, intelligence gained from torture is so unreliable that it’s often useless. People will often say whatever they think will make the torture stop.

So why is it portrayed as effective in some media? Could it be that the people behind shows such as 24 have a political agenda that they want us to subscribe to? I think it’s possible. It is important to remember that whilst our ‘all-American’ heroes such as 24’s Jack Bauer aren’t real, there are very real people, at multiple levels, making decisions behind the fictional actions he takes. This would appear to make sense, considering the airing of the original season of 24 coincided closely with the beginning of the War on Terror.

Could it be that these forms of entertainment are nothing more than jingoistic propaganda?

With recent news that torture is being carried out in ‘re-education camps’ in China’s Xinjiang province against Muslims, it’s more important than ever for countries to take a hard stance against its use.

With China fast becoming the next global superpower, there needs to be an effective and rigorous way to police the use of torture worldwide, with sanctions applied to those countries that support its use. As we have seen that even so-called liberal democracies will use torture, despite its unreliability and immorality, this needs to be an internationally co-ordinated effort.

If we don’t stamp out the use of this abhorrent practice now, we could see it on the rise sooner than you might think.