On 8 December 2005, after a four-day case involving 19 barristers, the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords (as the forerunner to the Supreme Court was unglamorously known) gave judgment in A and Others v Secretary of State for the Home Department (No 2). The seven law lords laid down a rule of seemingly great importance: that evidence which was – or was likely to have been – obtained by torture was never to be admissible in legal proceedings. The secretary of state had argued strongly that such evidence should be allowed to be used, but he was soundly defeated. ‘From its very earliest days the common law of England set its face firmly against the use of torture,’ the senior law lord, Lord Bingham, declared; as a 19th-century jurist had put it, the practice is ‘totally repugnant to the fundamental principles of English law’ and ‘repugnant to reason, justice and humanity’.
'I have spoken as recently as 24 hours ago with people at the highest level of intelligence,' the president of the United States said on ABC News last night, 'and I asked them the question: "Does it work? Does torture work?" And the answer was: "Yes, absolutely." … Do I feel it works? Absolutely I feel it works.' In Why Torture Doesn't Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation, Shane O'Mara, a professor of experimental brain research at Trinity College Dublin, argues that 'torture is as ineffective as it is abhorrent.'
Western just war theory progressed in lockstep with justifications of slavery. Infidels waging unjust war had put themselves beyond the moral pale and were fair game for enslavement – a humane act, since the alternative was death. We no longer ‘believe’ in slavery (modern-day servitude notwithstanding). But as in the crusades and modern humanitarian bombing, human lives are small fry in the face of high moral purpose.
‘We live in a post-racial society,’ Obama enthused, referring to his own victory, soon after entering the White House. It sounded hollow at the time, though many wanted to believe it. Nobody does today. Not even Toni Morrison. But the response of tens of thousands of young US citizens to the recent outrages in Ferguson, Cleveland and New York is much more important and interesting than the vapours being emitted in DC.
Since last June, Private Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old alleged source of the WikiLeaks hoard of war logs and diplomatic cables, has been kept in solitary confinement at Quantico. He is in his cell for 23 hours a day, frequently deprived of clothing and denied the right even to do press-ups. He has no contact with other prisoners and is forced to acknowledge to a guard that he is OK every five of his waking minutes. Whether this no-touch torture is being inflicted on Manning to force a confession implicating Julian Assange, or is merely an object lesson to other potential whistleblowers, is not clear.