When we torture the terrorists we become the terrorists

What Islamic State (IS) stood for and did while it governed its so-called ‘Caliphate’ is no secret. The terrorist group threw gays off rooftops, burned or drowned captives alive, raped women and girls (including the Yazidis, whom the jihadis considered apostates) and made their prisoners wear orange jumpsuits before beheading them. All of these actions are horrific and rightly condemned. Those IS members who are not already dead and who are captured could be charged with crimes against humanity.

We in the ‘civilised’ world see and present ourselves as different. We claim we abide by the rule of law. We say we provide all those who are tried in court with the presumption of innocence and the opportunity to retain counsel to defend themselves. Most of us have long abandoned the death penalty. We see ourselves as better and we do not engage in torture.

Except when we do.

There are reports coming out of Kashmir, the disputed territory between India and Pakistan, that Indian forces are torturing those it believes are related to what they call ‘terrorists’ fighting for independence for the region. Kashmiris are calling for an international investigation into these accounts of abuse and torture by the security forces.

First it must be acknowledged that there are indeed terrorists in Kashmir, including those who belong to Jaish-e-Mohamed. Part of the counter terrorism fight does involve the military as it does elsewhere, even if there is no military solution to this protracted dispute (NB as I noted in my latest book An End to the War on Terrorism there is seldom if ever a military answer to terrorism).

But when military actors, or anyone else for that matter, use torture in their counter terrorism efforts they forfeit all the advantages cited above. They use the same tactics as the terrorists do and hence become like the terrorists. Is this what we want? Have we come to the point where we are ok with any way to ‘defeat’ terrorism?

India is not the only state to have used torture against terrorists. The US has also resorted to torture in places like Guantanamo. Forced feedings, water boarding, shackling, mock executions and other forms of abuse have been wielded by the so-called leader of the free world. Remember those orange jumpsuits I alluded to above? Guess where IS got the idea from? Yep, the US which forces Gitmo ‘residents’ to wear them.

I know that a lot of people are getting tired of terrorism. We have, after all, been ‘at war’ with terrorism for nigh on two decades with no end in sight (see next blog). This frustration could lead to some being willing to do anything to make it all stop. That anything could include the use of torture.

This has to stop. We cannot ever lower ourselves to accept acts of abuse against alleged terrorists (or their families) no matter how angry we are or how much we want to avenge the deaths of our soldiers or our civilians at the hands of terrorism. We cannot become those we are seeking to counter.

It has taken us a very long time to get where we are now: full respect for the human rights of all. Let’s not blow it because of the crimes of a few terrorists.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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