Nicely dovetailing into my last post comes an opportunity to discuss the rights and wrongs of torture, courtesy of Max Hastings:
“It is a wicked thing, if Binyam Mohamed has indeed been tortured during his seven years’ confinement, latterly at America’s Guantanamo Bay, and equally wicked if Britain has been complicit in that torture.”
Which, as opening paragraphs go, is quite a good one. It establishes, from the off, that some things are bad, are that being complicit in them is also bad. We can all agree with this, we can be friends. But wait:
“The pit in which Britain, more than any other Western nation, finds itself stuck is that our courts and the human rights industry reject removal from our shores of anybody to their own nation if it lacks ‘acceptable’ standards of justice and freedom.”
Suddenly Max wants us to be complicit in bad things. Here we disagree, and fall out. What happened between the first paragraph and that one? Why can we not assist in torture, but can send someone back to a country where they will be tortured? Max thinnks it’s sufficient to say:
“The right of residence is discretionary.
Why should it be extended to a man about whom there seems little doubt does not want to live here as a law-abiding person, committed to our values and way of life?”
Take a parallel example: You want to kill Max. I know you want to kill Max. You ask to borrow my sharp knife; while I can’t be sure you don’t just want to evenly divide your freshly made fudge for the orphans, the look in your eye, and your comment about needing it to kill Max, suggests strongly that your motive is less friendly. I lend you the knife. You kill Max. You are now a murderer and I am an accessory, because I knew what you wanted to do and enabled you to do it. I didn’t kill Max, it’s true, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t do anything wrong, morally or actually. Even if I really wanted Max out of my spare room, or I felt Max’s journalism undermined my way of life. We should be able to agree.
If w can, we shuold also be able to agree that it is completely unimportant whether Binyam Mohamed left the UK because he didn’t want to live here (which he denies), it’s completely unimportant that he harbours resentment to the UK (although his statement on arrival certainly didn’t indicate that to me), it would be completely unimportant if he followed Max’s recommendation and built a bomb factory in Southall (although it would be fine to arrest him, try him and, if found guilty, imprison him). If we can agree that torturing him is wrong, it is wrong to enable his torture by sending him back to Ethiopia.
Either Max has missed this inconsistency, or he’s ignoring it. That’s poor – to paraphrase his conclusion, he has ‘displayed pitiful weakness‘ in failing to consistently condemn or support abetting torture and, arguably ‘merits our contempt‘.