Counter-Terrorism: Limitation of Rights, Torture and Interrogation Techniques

Inferno, Canto XXXI by Sandro Botticelli
"Terrorism must be suppressed as an essential element for the maintenance of international peace and security" (in Legal & Policy Issues When Countering Terrorism by Conte & Ganor) 

The world doesn't seem to reach a consensus on one universal definition of Terrorism; and I suspect that this is so because many nations are interested in keeping the definition opaque enough for political convenience. Nevertheless, after having read quite a few definitions, I selected one (from Prof Boaz Ganor's "Is One Man's Terrorist Another Man's Freedom Fighter?") that I believe to be the most straightforward of them all:

Terrorism is the intentional use of, or threat to use, violence against civilians or against civilian targets, in order to attain political aims (..) based on three important elements:
  • The essence of the activity (i.e. an activity that doesn't involve the use, or threat to use, violence will not be defined as terrorism).
  • The aim of the activity is always political (i.e. in the absence of a political goal, the activity in quest will not be defined as terrorism). 
  • The targets are civilians (i.e. acts are purposely directed at civilians; which distinguishes terrorist acts from other kinds of political violence [e.g. guerrilla warfare and civil insurrection].
But how far are we willing to go in order to suppress terrorism? 
Many individuals advocate for a limitation of rights & freedom of citizens and, defend that the state shouldn't be questioned over the use of harsh Interrogation Techniques; while others utterly reject the idea as a blatant violation of human rights and decry those techniques as being torture. 

Limiting the rights and freedoms of citizens, during the fight against terrorism, is permissible as long as all measures, taken by states, are necessary and proportionate to the aim pursued. 
Torture can be described as beating, bondage, physical mutilation, medical/scientific experiments, sexual abuse, abnormal sleep deprivation, mock executions, chemically induced psychosis etc - these are utterly forbidden by any CT guideline, thus, upholding the Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".
Interrogation Techniques do not involve what is described as torture; although it implies more than mere "interviews, debriefings and elicitation" - these may be protected under the article [15(1)] "a State may adopt measures temporarily derogating from certain obligations ensuing from the international instruments of protection of human rights" (in Guidelines of the Council of Europe on Human Rights and the fight against Terrorism) as long as cruel treatment stays out of the questioning sessions. 
Before such facts, it could be said that there is sufficient space of manoeuvre to counter terrorism without having intelligence officers being harassed by demagogic Human Rights advocates. 

But the question was, how far are we willing to go to suppress terrorism? If it doesn't involve torture or abuse of derogation of rights, I'd say we should go to great length to fight it because we have the fundamental right to "to life, liberty and security of person" and States have the obligation to "take the measures needed to protect the fundamental rights of everyone within their jurisdiction against terrorist acts, especially the right to life. This positive obligation fully justifies States’ fight against terrorism in accordance with the present guidelines." (idem)

Comments

  1. SO to know if the Boston Bombings were a terrorist attack the FBI has to know if the motive was political, right? And if it's not political what should it be called?

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    1. Hello Anonymous :D!

      An attack has to be based on three elements (political aims, use of or threat to use violence, and targeting civilians/civilian objectives) before being labelled as terrorism.

      If it is not political then it is a criminal offence. Do you agree?

      Anonymous, thank you ever so much for your comment :D. I appreciate it.

      Cheers

      Delete
  2. Human Rights advocates hinder security forces job. How are they to extract information without enhanced interrogation methods? At some point it will happen we all know it!
    The criminal(s) responsible for the death of a 8 year old kid yesterday do not deserve to be protected by a bill of rights.

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    1. Read the article again! It speaks of the 5th article of the universal declaration of human rights "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." and because we are all born equal, regardless of our criminal behaviour, we are all protected by this article! So NO TORTURE, no matter what!

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    2. You don't understand: I do not agree with that article. And I do not agree with forcing countries who are trying to defend themselves to comply with these conventions when plenty of countries do not respect those conventions, they just do not give a rat's ass about it and they get away with it!! At some some point interrogators will use enhanced interrogation methods, they have to and unless a suspect dies on their hands no one will know!

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    3. Hi Fed up reader :D!

      I would rather say that an inflexible stance regarding the Human Rights law may hinder the work of law enforcement agencies.
      Do you think that waterboarding or punching suspects till they're blue is an effective technique? Wouldn't you agree that most detainees would say anything in order to make the pain stop?

      Fed up reader, thank you ever so much for your contribution to the debate :D.

      Cheers

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    4. Hi Celia :D!

      The article speaks of Article 5 of the UDHR but it also raises the question (albeit very subtly) of what is torture. The definition of torture is very broad and therefore law enforcement agents do have a margin of manoeuvre - and rightfully so.
      I do not think we should be inflexible when dealing with terrorism and that is why our rights can be derogated (under an emergency state).

      But here's a question: how can we suppress terrorism in your inflexible opinion?

      Celia, thank you ever so much for your contribution to the debate :D.

      Cheers

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    5. Max, depending on the individual yes waterboarding can be effective. Punching leaves evidence of violence so I wouldn't advise it.

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    6. Fed Up Reader,

      I see where you are coming from. Thanks for being so direct :).

      Cheers

      Delete
  3. I am in favor of respecting the law and if the law rejects torture than torture should not be used. However I do not reject using more forceful ways of questioning a suspect when elicitation doesn't work.

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    1. Hi Anonymous :D!

      The question is what is described as torture and what is not. Law enforcement agents perhaps could work with a loophole?
      I hear you!

      Anonymous, thank you ever so much for your input :D.

      Cheers

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  4. Celia, I do not know where you live. I live in India where just a few hours ago in Bengaluru a Bomb went off in a very busy locale and so far reports have indicated that 18 people have been injured. I live in Pune in India where we have had a number of explosions where innocent young people have lost their lives for no reason other than some mad men's idea to send a message of terror to somebody else. Pune is close to Mumbai where Indians and foreigners including Israelis and jews from other countries were at the receiving end of terrorism from people sent from Pakistan helped by Indian contacts. I have lost close personal friends to terror attacks. Like Fed up reader, I do not subscribe to Article 5 of the declaration on human rights. We are not dealing with human beings in these cases. It is all very nice to be arm chair pundits and pontificate on interrogation methods when one has got nothing to loose. I want every single one of the terrorists past, present and future to be captured and eliminated so that my son and grand children will have safe lives. If anyone has grievances against me or my country, s/he should have the courage to come at me/us openly and settle scores. I would if I had to. I would not indulge in terrorism and I am 70 years old.

    Max, to you, some of the stuff that I have written in response to Celia are not new and I will add more once I get to read your entire submission.

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    1. Hi Rummy :D!

      Very good answer *applauding*!

      It's a deal, my friend.

      Rummy, thank you so much for your fabulous contribution to the debate :D.

      Cheers

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  5. It is funny how I hear people citing Human Rights to defend terrorists. How about the rights of the victims? We all have the inalienable right to live, to live in freedom and in security; now if a terrorist comes and denies me that right who will protect me after my demise to ensure the rights of the living? Who will punish that individual who so violently violated my rights?
    I must say that I agree in absolute with Rummuser and Fed Up Reader.

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    1. Hi Bernarda :D!

      You ask very good questions. It is true that when we discuss these issues some people will only look at one side of the coin; when it is needed to look at both sides.
      We should be brave enough to put ourselves in other people's shoes.

      Bernard, thank you ever so much for your contribution to the debate :D.

      Cheers

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    2. Bernard, I apologise for the typo in my previous comment.

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  6. Olá Max,

    One hot topic, hein?
    I'm ashamed to admit that I'm divided on this one: on one hand, I think the rights of suspects need to be respected but on the other hand I think the rights of law abiding citizens must be respect more.
    If a terrorist wants to violate my rights (and cause them to be derogated) then why shouldn't he see his rights being derogated? Now that I think of it, there is only one right that I truly think they deserve to have, under any circumstance...the right to life.

    Yeah, I am divided.

    Great job, querida!

    Tchau

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    1. Olá Celeste :D!

      I see that you joined Google Universe: what happened?
      I understand where you are coming from and, I admire your courage to admit that you are divided.

      My darling, thank you so much for your input :D.

      Cheers

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    2. Max,

      Someone told me that blogger's comment section is being merged with google+ and that for now, only those with a google account can comment, so I wanted to be safe.
      Obrigada, my darling.

      The pleasure is all mine.

      Tchau

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    3. Celeste,

      Oh, you heard about it? It is an absurd. I already told Google+ and Blogger that I wouldn't switch because it doesn't work for me (at least not in this blog). But I am glad you decided to join our universe nevertheless: do not forget to support our blog: just 1+ it ;).

      Cheers

      Delete
  7. Celia, before Article 5 you have Article 3 saying we have the fundamental right to "to life, liberty and security of person", shouldn't we defend that one first?
    As far as I am concerned terrorists shouldn't have rights at all. Let's hope that Celia never goes thru a terror attack or see her family members slaughtered by one!

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    1. Hi Ana :D!

      That is a good question: who should see its rights being respected first; the victim/targets or the terrorist?
      You do not think that terrorists deserve the right to life at all?

      Ana, thank you ever so much for your comment, girl :D.

      Cheers

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    2. No, I don't; but again they usually blow themselves up. Now, the brains behind the operations should be caught, questioned (and nevermind their rights) and then give them the needle.

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    3. Ana,

      I am hopeful that the high-value detainee interrogation group will be able to get the needed information...

      Cheers

      Delete
  8. As there is a desperation, in order to save more lives to gain information by any means, torture has in history been used to attempt to resolve the problem. In regard to torture, though it is undeniably successful in providing some information, that information may be mangled, unreliable and incomplete. No one should torture, but are not the acts of terrorists Torture? This places terrorists outside of human considerations. Acts of law are applicable to reasonable decent human beings, but what of mad men who hold in their crazed minds the future fate death and torture of sometimes thousands? Terrorists are of our species, but can they sincerely be classified as human in the sense of humane? Their mental program is corrupted. A terrorist is simply a predator on innocent human beings, should not such a creature simply be treated as any predator animal and dealt with without mercy?

    What is needed is a new approach. Would it not be a pleasant dream, if empaths and similar people of paranormal ability could be placed next to captured terrorists to discover vital secrets from evil minds without the need for torture? That would be a dream worth pursuing.

    As to saving more lives by discovering all relevant information, it would be unfortunate for the Boston terrorists to be all killed; but it would also be unfortunate for the terrorists to be captured by Law Enforcement as that then rules out torture and gives the protection of law and courts, and the terrorists can be laughing. Thus future victims are ensured a torturous death. Law Enforcement thus by its own nature ensures that Someone Will Be Tortured, only definitely not the Terrorist.

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    1. Hello Cheney :D!

      I agree with you: torture may not result in a complete intelligence (at least not in every case; because people are different).
      Yes, terrorist acts are a form of torture. I agree that predators (of any kind) should be considered non-humans (and dealt with without mercy), but the universal declaration of human rights prevents it...so what should be done?

      To tell you the truth I think that your idea is fabulous: people with paranormal ability could be used to help during the interrogation process and beyond even. Most definitely, it is a dream worth pursuing.

      The Boston perps need to be considered "enemy combatant", because it would be a shame to grant them the protection of law and courts.

      "Law Enforcement thus by its own nature ensures that Someone Will Be Tortured, only definitely not the Terrorist."

      Very well put *bowing*.

      Cheney, thank you ever so much for your outstanding contribution to the debate :D. You were missed.

      Cheers

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  9. Max, thanks for the great article.

    The angle I would like to highlight is this: We as Americans insist that we have an additional right in our fourth amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated ..."

    Thanks to terrorism, all Americans get to be searched every time we get on a plane and in many other situations. Maybe it wouldn't work, but I do have a sense that violating the "human rights" of a few might allow us to restore the constitutional rights of the many. On the other hand, we have the drug dealers who have exploited our fourth amendment to create a class of tens of millions who are slaves to drug addiction and unable to contribute to the economy.

    But in the end, I think that humanity is infected by the disease of evil. Hopefully we can choose rules that allow us to mitigate the damage.

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    1. Hi Looney :D!

      You are welcome. I am glad you liked it *bowing*.

      I agree that limiting certain rights is a small price to pay to protect vital rights (mainly the right to life and personal security) - the Bostonians understood that very well, last week. In the end, they even cheered the law enforcement agents and thanked them. However, they were the real heroes.

      Don't get me started on drug dealing, Looney. I have a question however: doesn't the responsibility fall upon the individual who takes that first step into taking drugs as well?

      I can't deny that humanity has been infected by some strange forces that are causing a disequilibrium. I hope people wake up soon.
      And yes, I also hope we can come to our senses to create rules allowing us to mitigate the damage...

      Looney, thank you ever so much for your fabulous contribution to the discussion :D.

      Cheers

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    2. Yes, I agree with you that responsibility falls on the individual. At the same time, many will be pressured in various ways to take drugs. As the Bible says, "Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom them come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble." - Luke 17:1,2.

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    3. You are right, Looney: there are a few ways to induce people to take drugs; and since not everybody reacts equally to drugs, some will become addicts while other won't.
      I like that passage (and it is so true). Like I said, no everyone reacts the same way either to drugs nor to life itself.

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  10. Its a very delicate subject, I feel. Yes one hand humanitarian grounds are there because most of the times the perpetrators or masterminds are sitting in air-conditioned rooms in the comfy of some secured bases but the ones executing it may be some poor chaps or their families who may have been sabotaged, so maybe during interrogation they should be treated humanely by govt agencies.

    Again on the other hand the problem is the longer you keep them in your safe custody, the actual masterminds maybe tempted to free them through unethical means like hijacking planes or sabotaging other assets. That's where the real problem lies. Either way the masterminds are actually the true villains who in the name of faith continue these dastardly acts ans as such should be given the harshest of punishments. I just do hope someday sanity and order prevails in these coward minds and their safe harbingers. Politics should be played on diplomatic tactics rather than through unscrupulous means.

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    1. Hi Kalyan :D!

      Those poor chaps and their families are the reason why I keep saying that those opposing radicalism must come to the streets and decry it once and for all. Doing it in their homes, in the caffe or hidden behind a newspaper is ineffective (although it is a start).
      So, the law says that if you commit a crime you are to be punished because having the declaration of human rights is clear "Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein." independently of having been coerced or not.

      In order to catch the masterminds we need to capture perpetrators alive (whenever possible), so that they can reveal the bits of information they have. Countering terrorism is a game of patience, but we need to have all the pieces on the board.

      "Politics should be played on diplomatic tactics rather than through unscrupulous means."

      Well said, K *bowing*.

      Kalyan, thank you ever so much for your fantastic comment :D.

      Cheers

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