WSJ editorial falsely claimed British would have no problem with using controversial interrogation methods


An August 11 Wall Street Journal editorial claimed that the British government would not "recoil" from using "harsh or stressful questioning" when interrogating suspects recently arrested in connection with an alleged plot to blow up airliners. However, the United Kingdom has adopted the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits the use of "torture" or "inhuman and degrading treatment."

In an August 11 editorial, The Wall Street Journal falsely claimed that the British government, when interrogating suspects recently arrested in an alleged terrorist conspiracy to bomb overseas flights, would not refrain from using "harsh and stressful" methods, which some would consider torture, and that "the British and other European legal systems generally permit far more intrusive surveillance and detention policies than the Bush Administration has ever contemplated." In fact, the United Kingdom and many other European countries have adopted the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) as law, which prohibits the infliction of "torture" as well as "inhuman and degrading treatment."

The Journal wrote:

And what about interrogating terror suspects when we capture them? It is elite conventional wisdom these days that techniques no worse than psychological pressure and stress positions constitute "torture." There is also continued angst about the detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, even as Senators and self-styled civil libertarians fight Bush Administration attempts to process them through military tribunals that won't compromise sources and methods.

In short, Democrats who claim to want "focus" on the war on terror have wanted it fought without the intelligence, interrogation and detention tools necessary to win it. And if they cite "cooperation" with our allies as some kind of magical answer, they should be reminded that the British and other European legal systems generally permit far more intrusive surveillance and detention policies than the Bush Administration has ever contemplated. Does anyone think that when the British interrogate those 20 or so suspects this week that they will recoil at harsh or stressful questioning?

However, the United Kingdom, in the Human Rights Act 1998, substantially adopted the ECHR as part of British law. Article 3 of that convention states that "[n]o one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

And, in the 1978 case Ireland vs. United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights found that the use of the so-called "five techniques" in interrogations in Northern Ireland "amounted to a practice of inhuman and degrading treatment, which practice was in breach of Article 3." Those "five techniques" were identified by the Court as follows:

96. Twelve persons arrested on 9 August 1971 and two persons arrested in October 1971 were singled out and taken to one or more unidentified centres. There, between 11 to 17 August and 11 to 18 October respectively, they were submitted to a form of "interrogation in depth" which involved the combined application of five particular techniques.

These methods, sometimes termed "disorientation" or "sensory deprivation" techniques, were not used in any cases other than the fourteen so indicated above. It emerges from the Commission's establishment of the facts that the techniques consisted of:

(a) wall-standing: forcing the detainees to remain for periods of some hours in a "stress position", described by those who underwent it as being "spreadeagled against the wall, with their fingers put high above the head against the wall, the legs spread apart and the feet back, causing them to stand on their toes with the weight of the body mainly on the fingers";

(b) hooding: putting a black or navy coloured bag over the detainees' heads and, at least initially, keeping it there all the time except during interrogation;

(c) subjection to noise: pending their interrogations, holding the detainees in a room where there was a continuous loud and hissing noise;

(d) deprivation of sleep: pending their interrogations, depriving the detainees of sleep;

(e) deprivation of food and drink: subjecting the detainees to a reduced diet during their stay at the centre and pending interrogations.

The Commission's findings as to the manner and effects of the application of these techniques on two particular case-witnesses are referred to below at paragraph 104.

97. From the start, it has been conceded by the respondent Government [the United Kingdom] that the use of the five techniques was authorised at "high level". Although never committed to writing or authorised in any official document, the techniques had been orally taught to members of the RUC by the English Intelligence Centre at a seminar held in April 1971.

Contrary to the Journal's assertion that "the British and other European legal systems generally permit far more intrusive surveillance and detention policies than the Bush Administration has ever contemplated," some of the "counter-resistance techniques" approved in December 2002 by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld appear similar to those banned by the European Court on Human Rights, including: "[t]he use of stress positions (like standing) for a maximum of four hours," "hav[ing] a hood placed over [the detainee's] head during transportation and questioning," "[d]eprivation of light and auditory stimuli," and [t]he use of 20-hour interrogations."

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Interrogation
Wall Street Journal
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