Torture is never justifiable – media release – 18 May 2005

May 18, 2005

Torture is a systematic violation of human rights that is, and must remain, unacceptable under any circumstances.

The Forum of Australian Services for Survivors of Torture and Trauma (FASSTT) completely disagrees with the views put by Professor Mirko Bagaric in the media on Tuesday 17 May 2005, when he argued that torture is justifiable in certain circumstances.

FASSTT is a network of Australia’s eight specialist torture and trauma rehabilitation services (one in each state and territory). The forum’s member agencies work with people who have come to Australia, mostly as refugees and humanitarian entrants, who have survived being tortured or who have been traumatised by their refugee experience. We also work with people seeking asylum in Australia.

Of major concern is the proposition that based upon the simplistic hypothetical “ticking bomb” scenario, the essential elements of which can never be guaranteed in the real world, the international community should abandon the principle of a total prohibition against all forms of torture. This shallow argument has been expressed by other academics, notably Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, and fails to address the complexity of real life situations and the consequences for society of accepting such utilitarianism.

According to Mr Paris Aristotle, Director of the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, and Executive of FASSTT, “to accept such a view would require a terrifying diminution of moral standards in order for such a proposition to have a place in international law. This would do nothing to advance human rights nor would it provide an answer to international terrorism”.

Mr Aristotle went on to say that, “our clients were tortured and traumatised by regimes that relied on similar arguments as those expressed in Professor Bagaric’s paper to justify their own practices”.

Views expressed by the authors that torture is an excellent information gathering device and as such should be considered for use in cases where it may help to avert a “moral catastrophe” are both erroneous and ignorant of the true purpose of torture.

Torture is not an excellent information gathering device, as has been confirmed by retired CIA and FBI operatives, because it usually results in unreliable information being provided in the hope that the torture will stop. Torture is primarily an instrument for asserting (and abusing) power over an individual, organisation or community by inflicting extreme physical and psychological pain in order to send a message to others who share similar views as the person being tortured. The traumatic consequences of such behaviour on the victims would always be devastating and enduring.

As a refuge from the countries in which torture took place, Australia represents an opportunity for survivors to heal from past, traumatic experiences. A crucial component to ensuring the sense of safety necessary for this to occur is our rejection of any view that torture could be either acceptable or morally justifiable.

For more information or to arrange interviews please contact Paris Aristotle or Rebecca Cole on 03 9389 8932 or email coler@survivorsvic.org.au.
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