Not Torture, Just Inhumane and Degrading

Not Torture, Just Inhumane and Degrading December 12, 2014

“[H]ooding, stress positions, white noise, sleep deprivation and deprivation of food and water . . . combined with physical assaults and death threats to the men” were not torture, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 1978, in a case Ireland brought against the U.K. protesting the treatment of Irish nationalists — the “hooded men” — imprisoned at the beginning of “the Troubles.” It was, the court ruled, “inhumane and degrading treatment.”

At the urging of some of the surviving hooded men, the Irish government has asked the court to revise its judgment. According to the Guardian, “the government knew its core argument – that the effects of techniques used on the hooded men were not severe or long-lasting – was untrue. The British government fought a vigorous legal action in 1978 to absolve it of the ‘special stigma’of its armed forces being found guilty of committing acts of torture.”

One of the men, Michael Donnelly, told the Londonderry Sentenel that the English government “got their way even though, as some of the papers have shown, they referred to it themselves as torture at that time. They were calling it torture and they took it to the European Court to say that it wasn’t torture. . . . The decision to proceed with the torture, according to Mervyn Rees in these documents, was made at the highest level of government — it was a Cabinet decision. They were actually talking about torture and appealing against it being classified as torture.”

This is a very delicate and evasive distinction, between torture and inhumane and degrading treatment. The victim will appreciate the difference, but what legal or moral use it is? Is it some sort of defense to say “We treated the men inhumanely and degradingly, but at least we didn’t torture them”?

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