The European Court and Torture

A reader writes:

Thanks for coming down hard on Bret Stephens and his dreadful editorial. You're right: it's dishonest of him not to mention that the "Five Techniques" were ruled illegal by the European Court of Human Rights. The determination that they did not constitute torture was, however, atrocious, and deserves very little respect. It is an early ruling of the Court, which at the time was proceeding very cautiously - too cautiously.

More to the point, the Court has evolved since then, and has strongly hinted that the 1978 judgment was in error. It held in 1999 in Selmouni v. France that "the Court considers that certain acts which were classified in the past as 'inhuman and degrading treatment' as opposed to 'torture' could be classified differently in future."  Christina Cerna elaborates:

The European Court found that the acts complained of in Selmouni "were such as to arouse in the applicant feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority capable of humiliating him and possibly breaking his physical and moral resistance" (Selmouni v. France: para. 101) and held France to be in violation of the prohibition on torture because of its treatment of Selmouni (i.e., he was dragged along by his hair; he was made to run along a corridor with police officers positioned on either side to trip him up; he was made to kneel down in front of a young woman to whom someone said "Look, you’re going to hear somebody sing"; one police officer then showed him his penis, saying "here, suck this," before urinating over him; he was threatened with a blow lamp and then a syringe) (Selmouni v. France: supra note 5, para. 82)."

One problem with UK v. Ireland and so much of the commentary is that the sanitary descriptions attached to the "Five Techniques" disguise the real brutality visited on the detainees. Make sure to read John Conroy's book "Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People."  It's the same with the Bush torture regime -- the shorthand descriptions don't convey what is actually done, and give a false impression of orderliness, precision, and restraint. The reality is savagery, sadism, mayhem, and horror.