In a context where brandishing the words “moral rearmament” or “war on terror,” is the case since the terrorist attacks in early January, the risk of detonating the principles underlying these democracies is not negligible. Starting with the temptation to remedy the defects by intelligence expeditious methods, of what the United States didn’t lose. This is shown by a report from the committee of the US Senate Intelligence declassified December 9th, 2014. Not only has the CIA conducted intensive interrogation, amounting to torture, in the context of the “war against terrorism” after the attacks of September 11th, 2001, but it was in vain. The report demonstrates the futility of the information obtained, particularly in the hunt for the al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Contrary to the spirit of the Enlightenment, torture had gradually disappeared in the West since the eighteenth century, and only the Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism have reintroduced it in Europe. Once that door opened, it managed to infiltrate the heart of the French Republic. A few years after the end of the Second World War, torture was practiced during the wars in Indochina and Algeria, even if the rulers did never publicly admitted it. To intellectuals like Pierre Vidal-Naquet (The Torture in the Republic, Minuit, 1972) or the Communist Henri Alleg, who had himself suffered to torture (La Question, Minuit, 1958) protested, with others, against this process.
We imagine that a suspect is in possession of information that could prevent a deadly explosion when we use torture to prevent a time bomb. After exhausting agreed interrogation methods, would it be, if not legal, at least fair to subject the prisoner in question in order to find the lethal weapon and protect potential victims? This kind of calculation was considered a plea for “stress methods,” a term used by Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1962, and then by his daughter Navy in December 2014 — although both have defended by that explicitly justify torture.
However, neither the far right nor nostalgic colonization have had the monopoly of casuistry on the subject, and has shown the philosopher Michel Terestchenko, author of Good Use of Torture. On the basis of the “time bomb,” American left philosophers like Michael Walzer, or liberal as the famous lawyer Alan Dershowitz also discussed a liberal ideology of torture. While these thinkers have not sought the least to legitimize this practice was once called the question. But by adopting the strong shared consequentialist view, which judges the morality of an action by its effects, it is difficult to not qualify it as a good all lesser evil that spares innocent by talking a terrorist force. Only the opposite approach, “deontological” (appreciating anything under principles and not of consequences), may designate torture as criminal and unjustifiable.
This scenario of the “ticking bomb” had already been used to justify the massive use of torture in the wars in Indochina and Algeria, particularly during the “Battle of Algiers” in 1957. According to some militaryies, we would have had the answer to fight terror with terror. One of them, Colonel Roger Trinquier, theoretician of modern war (The Round Table, 1961), put it this way, “In modern warfare, as in conventional wars of the past, it is an absolute necessity to use every weapon at our opponents use. To not would be absurd. Relentless surveillance will be applied to all people, all suspicion or evidence of disobedience will be punished by the death penalty, which often occur after hideous torture.”
The post-September 11th in the US shows such a case in the mechanism of these intellectual and political excesses at a time. In 2004, Internet images proved that Iraqi soldiers were tortured by American soldiers, particularly in the Abu Ghraib prison. Added to this were the practices of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other clandestine prisons. In September 2006, the Military Commission Act, also known as The Torture Law (Law of torture), passed by the US Congress makes admissible in a military court testimony obtained by force. Certainly, in 2008, Congress passed a decree banning waterboarding (simulated drowning). But President George W. Bush, calling the ordeal of “coercive technique” vetoed. In 2009, the Obama administration put an end to the most shocking aspects of the “war against terror” including waterboarding. But in the post-Cold War, no democracy has been so far in the legalization of unacceptable uses.
Literature and, more generally, popular culture has often been accused of contributing to accept negative practices to all international conventions. Thus, in 1960, in The Centurion’s Jean Lartéguy (1920-2011), a book that chronicles a barely fictionalized fashion and empathetically equipped with the French officers in the colonial conflict of the 1950s, one of the characters, Lieutenant Marindelle launches an Algerian prisoner about to be tortured and that conjured respect to the code of military honor, “now we want to win, and we are too busy to embarrass ourselves with these ridiculous conventions. Our weakness, our hesitation, our awareness of crises are the best weapons you can use against us. And they are no longer being considered.” Sold more than 1 million copies (and reprinted in 2011), the book become the favorite book of General David Petraeus, commander of the military coalition in Iraq.
Half a century later, some successful TV series of the 2000s played a role comparable to the war literature of the 1960s Michel Terestchenko identified in the first five seasons of 24, 67 cases of torture expected to demonstrate its effectiveness in extreme peril, nuclear bomb type to Los Angeles, etc. Although the protagonist, Jack Bauer, ends up paying more or less its excesses, it nonetheless presented as a “noble torturer” loan, like the French “centurion” of old, to sacrifice not only his life but his honor for the salvation of his fellow citizens. Homeland, another hit series derived from the Israeli series “Hatoufim” depicts the question practiced by CIA agents, so it is true a little less apologetic.