Alex Massie

Exceptions don’t prove the rule

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Marty Peretz writes:

Torture is a repugnant practice, and especially so if it becomes a habit.  It may have become that, although I don't know.  No one outside the alleged practitioners does.  But, believe me, I'm not trying to shrug the matter off.  Andrew Sullivan has persuaded me of its centrality to a humane society.

So far so sort of good. Then, alas, he concludes:

One last point.  The two prisoners the tapes of whose questioning were destroyed by the C.I.A. were certifiable monsters: Abu Zubaydah, an Al Qaeda planner of the 9/11 atrocity, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the mastermind of the Aden bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.  It's a bit strange that such monstrous men should evoke so much concern.

But torture isn't justified by the monstrousness or guilt of those being tortured. It is easy  -or at least it should be - to oppose the torture of the innocent but it should be just as important  - and necessary - to oppose the torture of the guilty too. So, no, it's not strange that the mistreatment of fellows as unpleasant as Abu Zubaydeh should be a cause for so much concern. That Mr Peretz thinks it is fosters the suspicion that he's not as exercised by torture as he claims. Perhaps that's an uncharitable judgment but his conclusion seems to suggest that, well, they had it coming didn't they so who are they to complain?

Meanwhile, Andrew posts this withering verdict:

"Whoever imagined that you would hear from the United States and from Britain the same arguments for detention without trial that were used by the apartheid government," - Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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Topics in this articleSocietyterrorismtorture