Why Scotland must not be complicit in torture – leader comment
In 1967, future US Senator John McCain was shot down while flying a US Navy plane in the Vietnam War and he then spent more than five years in captivity, during which he was tortured to the brink of suicide.
This experience helped make him a powerful advocate against the use of torture and techniques such as waterboarding. “America must be a model citizen if we want others to look to us as a model,” the late McCain said in 2008 when, as the Republican nominee for US President, he called for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay military prison. “How we behave at home affects how we are perceived abroad. We can’t torture or treat inhumanely suspected terrorists we have captured.”
In addition to such moral arguments, he also made practical ones, writing in the Washington Post in 2011 that torture “often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear — true or false — if he believes it will relieve his suffering. Often, information provided to stop the torture is deliberately misleading”. He conceded that abusing prisoners “sometimes” results in good intelligence, but also warned it endangered US troops who might be captured.
As we report today, a letter sent to Nicola Sturgeon by a cross-party group of MSPs expresses “deep concern” that an investigation into the use of Scottish airports for US torture and rendition flights will not establish the truth of what happened until the Scottish and UK governments take “concerted action”. A police report is currently being considered by the Crown Office’s serious and organised crime unit.
Whether or not there is enough evidence for a prosecution, at the very least the authorities should be able to establish with reasonable certainty what took place and this information should be made public.
It is important for Scotland and the UK to remain on friendly terms with our allies in Nato, but we should be open and honest about what this means.
And whatever was done in the past, we should take steps to ensure that never again is Scotland in any way complicit in torture.
It is, first and foremost, barbaric; it is an unreliable way to gather intelligence; and it gives other countries an excuse to torture our own citizens, potentially in far more barbaric ways than we or our allies would countenance. And it is, quite simply, immoral. In order to hold our heads up high in the world, we must adhere to higher standards than the cruellest of dictators.