It is no accident that those who advocate war for humanitarian reasons end up justifying torture
by John Laughland
Arguments in favour of the legalisation of torture have not lost their capacity to shock. The fact that US attorneys-general and the senior legal adviser at the state department have said they are in favour of it seems proof to many of America's slide into barbarism. In reality, however, their pro-torture arguments are no different from the claims made in favour of "humanitarian war" and of other forms of military intervention - arguments that, unfortunately, have become increasingly popular since the end of the cold war.
Torture and "humanitarian war" are similar in many ways. Both involve the inflicting of violence in order to force a change of behaviour. Both are predicated on the assumption of guilt: torture is justified because the victim is said to be a terrorist, or an "illegal combatant" who has committed or is about to commit a terrible crime, while pre-emptive war is justified because a state is said to be "a rogue state" violating international law (Iraq) or committing crimes against humanity (Yugoslavia). It is therefore no coincidence that the US administration that justifies its wars in the name of claims about humanity and its right to liberty also advocates the use of torture to protect these.
Torture and war have been the subject of absolute or near-absolute interdiction in international law. In the aftermath of the second world war, the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials established the principle that crimes against peace are the supreme crime. Aggressive war "contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole", said the Nuremberg judges, who understood that once war starts, war crimes will inevitably follow. It was therefore better to ban it completely. This was done by the UN charter, which declared all war, including so-called humanitarian war, illegal. War is allowed only in the very restricted and clear-cut cases of self-defence and when authorised by the security council. Torture was similarly banned by UN convention in 1985.