Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/4/2009 (4416 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Some people say "no," that information extracted by torture cannot be used even by a third party that had no role in the inquisition, not even to deflect a terrorist attack on innocent civilians. Torture is always immoral, they say, and using information obtained through it is also always immoral, no matter how far removed from the thumb screws and the electric prods the ultimate recipients of the details may be.
That, at least, was the position taken by some opposition MPs and witnesses at a parliamentary committee on public safety this week. Liberal MP Mark Holland, for example, said that Canada must be firm on this: We can't tell other governments, he said, that while we condemn torture, we will happily take any juicy bits of information they might get from it.
That, an intelligence analyst told the committee, would be tantamount to CSIS's "breaking Canada's commitments to international conventions forbidding the use of torture."
This is a sensitive issue in Canada today because of the Maher Arar case. Mr. Arar is an Arab-Canadian whom Canadian security officials effectively shopped to American security officials who, in turn, "rendered" him to Syria where he was tortured to no apparent purpose. He was eventually returned to Canada, found blameless by an enquiry and compensated with $10 million. It all added up to an expensive error, both financially, and it seems, ultimately to the cost of Canadian security, which is in danger of being hobbled by a horrible historical mistake.
As CSIS representatives appearing before the committee said, they would and should act on information that came from suspect origins if they thought it could prevent a terrorist attack, although the agency, like the Canadian government and most of its citizens, believe torture to be "morally repugnant" and do not "in any way promote or condone its use."
One would certainly hope so. Not every nation in the world, however, is so perfect a place as Canada. Even our best friend and ally, the United States, is accused of using torture techniques at its prison for terrorist suspects in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, including Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, and God only knows what goes on in jails in Afghanistan, Pakistan and China, all friends and trading partners of this country.
Information, however, is neutral in its morality no matter how it is obtained. It may be true, as the committee heard, that most information obtained under torture is worthless, but as long as one does not promote or condone torture, it would be grossly irresponsible for any security service, any government, including Canada's, to refuse to use it to defend the safety of its citizens.