By Monia Mazigh – Immediately after 9/11, Alan Dershowitz, a prominent and controversial American lawyer, created an outrage among human rights organizations when he published an article in The San Francisco Chronicle entitled “Want to Torture? Get a Warrant.” In his article, Dershowitz argued that government could use torture (he specified it should be non lethal) in a “ticking-time bomb scenario”. In a nutshell, his argument would condone the use of “some type of torture” if this will save the lives of hundred of thousands of people.
I do not agree with this argument as I firmly believe that torture can never be justified, neither can rape, or any other kind of brutality afflicted on people, no matter how “legitimate” or “appealing” the reasons used to try and justify it.
In Canada, the debate around torture reached us first through Canada’s participation in the Afghanistan war with the transfer of detainees programs and the use of torture by the Afghani forces under the orders of the Canadian military. And it didn’t stop there. In 2011, Vic Toews, the Public Safety Minister at the time, sent ministerial directives to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), giving them the authority to use and share information that was likely extracted through torture.
Like Dershowitz’s Machiavellic argument, the use of torture won’t be officially condoned but Vic Toews makes sure to mention, “that protection of life and property are the chief considerations when deciding on the use of information”. Thus forgetting that this information may have been derived from torture.
One year later, Vic Toews progressed in his attempts to legalize torture and sent similar memos to the RCMP and CBSA.
The almost identical directives allow these agencies to share information obtained through torture. Once again, the “ticking-bomb scenario” is evoked. The difference here is that it is named “exceptional circumstances” and the justification is “in order to mitigate a serious risk of loss of life, injury, or substantial damage or destruction of property before it materializes.”
Last week, Ralph Goodale, the new Public Safety Minister, quietly declared that these controversial directives enacted by the previous government will be reviewed. The news didn’t attract much attention.
I believe that this is one of the most promising and courageous actions so far taken by the government. Will the Canadian “torture memos” be removed? Will this shameful legacy of using information extracted from torture be stopped and reversed or is it too late? Last summer, the media reported that CSIS got the green light from a high-level internal committee to interview a Canadian detained abroad as long as captors gave “proper assurances” that the person would not be abused. Of course, we know that similar “proper assurances” were also required by the American when they rendered Maher Arar to Syrian jailers. And of course, we know today that he ended up being tortured and the assurances were worthless. We will definitely keep following this matter.