Torture is getting a makeover.  Goegre Bush claimed (without evidence) that it had prevented terrorist attacks on Britain, and suddenly respectable commentators are hustling us back to the Middle Ages as fas as they can. 


The truly terrifying speed with which civilised values can be eroded is evident from yesterday's Evening Standard, where Anne McElvoy writes: "How many of us truly feel terror sustects should be treasted with kid gloves if they are witholding information which could help prevent an atrocity?"

Note, first, the clever and dishonest shift.  In the first half of that sentence they are only "suspects" but in the scond half we know they are "witholding information which could help prevent an atrocity." In a few brief words she's disposed, not only of all our objections to torture, but also the presumption of innocence.

Even if torture were morally justifiable, it doesn't work.  Galileo only had to be shown the instruments of torture to state at once that the Sun went round the Earth, and I'm with Galileo. You'd only have to show me what you were going to do to me, and I'd tell you at once that my name was Oasama bin Laden and my best friend was George Galloway, or whomever else my torturers happened to want me to associate with Bin Laden.

And even if it worked, a society which practises torture rapidly degenerates into a harsh place full of random violence.  Look at iraq when the torturer Saddam Husain was removed. The dictator may have gone, but the habit of murder and torture was well ingrained.

There really are moral absolutes, and one of them is that torture is always, under any circumstances, wrong. If I had Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Husein and a clutch of Burmese generals locked up in my basement, and I had to decide what to do with them, I hope I'd say: give them three wholesome meals a day and don't lay a finger on them, and we'll set up a properly constituted court as fast as we can.  And if I had Ms McElvoy and George Bush there, I'd resist my inclination to have their fingernails pulled put, very slowly, one by one.