As published in The Times:
Getting mixed up in torture makes us less safe, not more.
Does the British government never learn? For a decade we have struggled to come to terms with our complicity in rendition and torture, and now we hear that the Ministry of Defence is conjuring up another dubious policy.
It is a recurring tragedy of our politics that while brave men and women in uniform defend British values overseas, those values are betrayed from behind desks in Whitehall. And so it is with today’s revelation that the Ministry of Defence has been approving actions that could lead to torture if “the potential benefits justify accepting the risk and legal consequences”.
To be clear: the fault here does not lie with our armed forces or intelligence agencies, but rather the decisions made in Westminster to trade information with torturers. Those soldiers hate the use of torture.
Our most senior living soldier, Field Marshall Lord Guthrie, said on the pages of The Times ten years ago: “Torture is illegal. It is a crime in both peace and war that no exceptional circumstances can permit . . . Torture is self-defeating. We need to distinguish ourselves from our enemies. We must not, in the false name of moral equivalence, degrade ourselves to their level.”
I have no illusions about the threat we face from enemies foreign and domestic. But when a government gets mixed up in torture it makes us less safe, not more.
Torture doesn’t work. People being tortured will tell interrogators anything to make the pain stop. As we have known for centuries, and as the US Senate found in its report on America’s post-9/11 torture programme, torture begets nothing but bad information and misguided policies.
British backing for torture also undermines the laws and principles that protect our soldiers. If we don’t respect the laws and conventions which prohibit torture, our enemies are less likely to do so.
Perhaps most damagingly, torture delivers a propaganda victory to our adversaries.
I told parliament a decade ago that the battle against terrorism was not just a fight for life, but a battle of ideas and ideals. We cannot defend our civilisation by giving up the ideals of that civilisation.
After the Second World War this country helped build a new global order based around justice and the rule of law. That international system prohibits torture in principle and in law. We must not let a government chip away at the values that so many have fought to protect.
I have tremendous respect for the incoming defence secretary, Penny Mordaunt. I have great hope that she will rescind this policy.
I hope, also, that this will serve as a wake-up call for the intelligence watchdog Sir Adrian Fulford, who is preparing recommendations to the government on the UK’s policy in this area. He should not blink in making clear that torture or mistreatment can never be authorised.
Above all else, the prime minister must show leadership on this issue. She needs to finally launch the long-delayed judge-led inquiry into UK involvement in torture to which we committed when taking office in 2010. The world is beginning to believe that the government is avoiding making this decision. They should act now — before the courts force them to.
Torture never works and is always wrong. Our armed forces know it and our laws confirm it. The establishment must act accordingly.