Word is leaking out that one of the suspects apprehended in Pakistan in the British airliner bomb plot gave up his information under conditions of duress. The liberal Guardian doesn't know what to think of this:
Reports from Pakistan suggest that much of the intelligence that led to the raids came from that country and that some of it may have been obtained in ways entirely unacceptable here. In particular Rashid Rauf, a British citizen said to be a prime source of information leading to last week's arrests, has been held without access to full consular or legal assistance. Disturbing reports in Pakistani papers that he had "broken" under interrogation have been echoed by local human rights bodies.
The Guardian has quoted one, Asma Jehangir, of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, who has no doubt about the meaning of broken. "I don't deduce, I know - torture," she said. "There is simply no doubt about that, no doubt at all." If this is shown to be the case, the prospect of securing convictions in this country on his evidence will be complicated. In 2004 the Court of Appeal ruled - feebly - that evidence obtained using torture would be admissable as long as Britain had not "procured or connived" at it. The law lords rightly dismissed this in December last year, though they disagreed about whether the bar should be the simple "risk" or "probability" of torture.
But none of this stops governments acquiescing in torture to acquire information, rather than secure convictions, as British as well as American practice has shown. It has been outsourced to less squeamish countries and denied through redefinition: but it is still torture and still illegal.... The defence ....[is that] it works. But does it? Torture and other illegality can offer authorities a short-term seduction, perhaps even temporary successes. Information provided by torture may have helped foil the alleged airliners plot. But evidence provided uder torture is often unreliable, sometimes disastrously so - and its use always pollutes the broader credentials of torturers and their allies. This battle must be won within the law. Anything else is not just a form of defeat but will in the end fuel the flames of the terror it aims to overcome.
It's hard to tell whether this is an argument for legalizing torture so that when it's done it's done within the law, or throwing out the case against the terror suspects because the information against them was gained illegally. At any rate, it certainly looks as if the claim that torture doesn't work, a different claim, to be sure, than the claim that it is never right, has been refuted in the case of Mr. Rauf.
With regard to the claim of those like Andrew Sullivan, who argue that torture is absolutely, categorically wrong, here's a thought experiment: Imagine that Mr. Rauf's evidence was crucial to uncovering the plot to blow up ten airliners. Imagine, too, that Mr. Rauf could not be enticed to yield his knowledge of the plot through any means other than being subjected to whatever measures the Pakistanis brought to bear. Finally, imagine that the person you love most of all, in all the world, would have been aboard one of those planes. Would you insist that, these hypotheticals notwithstanding, if you had your way Pakistan would not have been permitted to employ the methods they apparently did to persuade Mr. Rauf to talk? A simple yes or no will suffice.
If you answered yes, try this: look your loved one directly in the eyes and tell him or her that.