William Hague rightly expressed outrage at the alleged treatment of Binyam Mohamed as described in the seven paragraphs released by the Foreign Office this week. However, his is not the only reaction that the accusations have provoked. Others seem to argue that MI5 just tucked in behind the US Agencies involved, in order to maintain a flow of information to help avert future crises. The same people might argue that torture is a necessary evil in order to counter terrorist activities.
That defence should be dismissed. Firstly there is a pure matter of principle as Alex Deane noted on CentreRight. Torture is just not acceptable in a free society, and we cannot defend our values by abandoning them. Fans of the all-action series 24 will recognise this as a perpetual dilemma faced by the lead character, Jack Bauer, who repeatedly decides to abandon moderation, torturing his suspects in order to obtain the information required to save the President, America or the World from imminent destruction. Jack Bauer’s defence is one of short term pragmatism versus long term principle, and in each series, Jack chooses to sacrifice principle to deal with the immediate threat.
To apply Jack Bauer’s logic in the War Against Terrorism is to misrepresent the nature of the threat that Al Qaeda now represents. The world has seen clashes of ideology before, but this war is unlike any that has gone before it because of one thing: the Internet. With instant communication and a computer in the bedroom of every disaffected teenager, Al Qaeda is a ‘virtual’ enemy that cannot be hunted down to a single location and destroyed in one go. It has been likened to the many-headed Hydra of Greek mythology, which was eventually slain by Heracles (otherwise known as Hercules). Every time that one of the Hydra’s heads was cut off, another one (or in some cases two) would grow back.