Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"If torture works ..." Not

I have voiced my criticisms of Ignatieff's views on torture here and here.  In the first post, I mentioned that I would address the strong, mainly Internet based, complaints that Ignatieff supports torture.

The accusations I have found fall into two main groups.  A strong majority of them contain ad hominem attacks connecting these accusations to his religion, party affiliation and other smears that I will not discuss or link to.

The provenance of the accusations that appear to be based in the real world seem to stem mainly from work by Linda McQuag and her book: HOLDING THE BULLY'S COAT: Canada and the U.S. Empire.

To quote from her interview in Quill and Quire (my emphasis in bold):
Michael Ignatieff doesn’t fair too well in McQuaig’s estimation either:

That quote [in Holding the Bully's Coat] from Ignatieff, where he talks about torture [being defensible] as long as it’s done by a patriotic American, now that’s an interesting quote. That one hasn’t gotten the play that some of the others [have]. That one was from an interview he did with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. That is an incredible statement of the notion of American exceptionalism, the idea that America should be excepted from being bound by international law. And for Ignatieff to come out and endorse that in the way he did is just phenomenal. I find it striking, because he doesn’t talk like that in Canada. You don’t hear him talk like that so much in Parliament…. And yet if you actually look at some of the things he’s said, he’s actually an extraordinary neoconservative. He’s up there with guys like Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith and some of those people in terms of the extremism of his position. And yet this guy’s a prominent politician in Canada….

Based on an Internet search and Ms. McQuiag's references, that would be this interview: ABC Radio National - Background Briefing: 24 April  2005  - Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil 

To quote from her book:...
While Justice O'Connor shows how international law unequivocally rejects torture in all circumstances, Ignatieff has argued that if torture is being administered by a "non-sadistic" and patriotic American," then the torturer should be made to stand trial for his crime _ but be allowed the legal defence of "mitigation."  We should be willing to cut the torturer a little slack, in other words, as long as he means well and is advancing the cause of America.
There are a few points to address here.  First off, while it was an ABC broadcast, it was taped in an Boston in front of a live audience.  Any references to American in the particular may, in fairness, have stemmed from the questions asked.  We have no way of knowing since the questions aren't presented.

But more importantly we should dissect the statement in the interview Ms. McQuaig refers to.  This would appear to be it:
But it’s clear to me that there will be ticking bomb cases. There may be ticking bomb cases, I would always and unconditionally, outlaw any form, even a physical contact with an interrogation suspect, I’m not shaking, I’ve gone through the Israeli Supreme Court cases, I don’t want people being shaken and thrown against walls, I don’t want any of that, I don’t want physical torture. But repetitive, recursive, stress-inducing interrogation, yes, I can see us doing it. I can also see situations where in good faith an interrogator, a non-sadistic, patriotic American consciously believing he has to apply physical methods to save lives, would apply them, and they should always in every case, be punishable. That is to say, torture should be a criminal offence, period. Any physical means should be a criminal offence. I would then, it’s a standard legal doctrine, allow that in mitigation, that is, the right way to deal with this is not to permit physical methods, but to allow a mitigation excuse to be advanced in front of a jury when assessing the criminal charge that in my judgment should follow from the use of any physical methods. I can’t see any other way to do this.
Read in it's entirety, and ignoring the particular reference to "American", I believe that this statement is entirely consistent with his statements in Prospect magazine.

So, in summary, Mr. Ignatieff does speak out about torture and strongly denounces it.  There is not any concrete proof, that I could find, that he provides "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" supportfor  torture to different audiences in other parts of the world.  Mr. Ignatieff, in my opinion,  has a flawed view on the need for an absolute ban on torture with enforceable prohibitions and unavoidable consequences.  But the fact that he opposes torture seems to be incontrovertible.  I believe that criticisms of his stand should focus on the flaws in the argument rather than accusations of his holding a pro-torture position.
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