Since we have just concluded our discussion of values and how these tie into national security I found it rather intriguing that The Economist began a series this week that examines how terrorism has affected civil liberties. In the first installment The Economist examines arguably the worst assault on civil liberties by exploring the use of torture to secure information deemed to be of vital interest to national security. The report looks specifically at how 9/11 has changed some of the attitudes in western countries about the appropriateness of some level of torture to extract information from terror suspects.
The article lays down some of the international laws to which most countries are signatories and how they define torture. According to the article it the different interpretation of what constitutes torture that has allowed several countries most notably the US and England to engage in or sponsor some level of torture by allies. The moral dilemma with torture is of course discussed as it can potentially save many lives in return for small concessions in civil liberties. Dick Chenney is quoted as having recently suggested that "dunking" a terrorist in water to save lives was a "no-brainer". This blunder was later altered by a press release stating that he was not referring to "water-boarding". Also in 2004 the English Court of Appeal ruled that evidence acquired through torture was admissible in court. Although later overturned by the House of Lords.
The nature of terrorism, according to the article, has made the need for information that much more important to defending against the enemy. Polls presented in the article also show that a large numbers of people around the world believe that "some degree of torture is permissible". However, in the same polls we also see that in all countries a majority of the population are "against all torture". Clearly a divide has developed since the rise of terror that has changed some peoples perception as to what national security is and how important civil liberties are to it. Governments have responded to these changes in public attitude by permitting it in some form through elaborate schemes.
Also, the article touches on some aspects from the nuclear taboo article from last week. The Economist seems to espouse the view that torture should also remain a taboo to modern societies as it poses a slippery slope just like the use of nuclear arms. Once the practice of torture becomes accepted, even in only a minor role and extreme cases similar to the use of tactical nukes, it will lead to escalation as there is no clear boundary that can be established in its implementation. The article argues that the erosion of civil liberties in this direction is a dangerous development but also makes note that in many places legislation has been developed to curb many of the torture practices that emerged directly after 9/11 and the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This seems to coincide with reduced support for torture at home.