Torture In The 21st Century



Torture still flourishes worldwide. Is it state-licensed sadism, and is it ever justified?

Torture still flourishes worldwide, often in the face of official denial. John Sweeney, previous winner of an Amnesty award for a radio documentary on torture, investigates its current extent and variety, and the motivation. Torture has its defenders as well as its deniers. Can there be justification for torture? Does it ever reveal the truth? How much is it invariably state-licensed sadism?

He visits Belarus, investigating reports of the KGB's use of torture and meeting torture 'victims' from the Amerikanka prison. It is widely believed that two men executed for killing 15 people with a bomb at the Minsk metro were tortured into 'confessing' - Sweeney delves into what seems to be contradictory evidence. With Belarus arguably still in a Stalinist past, should that embarrass major backers like Russia and China, and perhaps its Western 'friends'?

How often do so-called civilised countries and their leaders connive at torture, even when not physically participating? Sweeney takes a hard look at the euphemisms and excuses used to cover it up.

But what is torture? According to the UN Convention Against Torture it is 'an act by which severe pain or suffering is inflicted on a person to obtain information or a confession'. The programme reveals some of the methods used to 'politically re-educate, interrogate, punish, and co-erce' and also to compel a 'transfer of loyalties'.

The programme begins among the instruments of torture housed in the Tower of London, dating from Henry VIII. The historical monstrosities entertain visitors, who probably give no thought to their modern-day equivalents. This documentary does.

Producer: David Coomes

A CTVC Radio production for BBC Radio 4.