Canada's secret police to government: we need torture to keep this country safe

The head of Canada's secret police has asked the government to fight against a proposed ban on information gleaned through torture. The chief of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service says that torture is essential to Canada's security in its fight against terrorism.

In the letter, Judd urges the minister to fight an amendment to C-3 proposed by Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh that would prohibit CSIS and the courts from using any information obtained from torture or “derivative information”: information initially obtained from torture but subsequently corroborated through legal means.

“This amendment, if interpreted to mean that ‘derivative information’ is inadmissible, could render unsustainable the current security certificate proceedings,” Judd writes.

“Even if interpreted more narrowly to exclude only information obtained from sources and foreign agencies who, on the low threshold of ‘reasonable grounds’ may have obtained information by way of torture, the amendment would still significantly hinder the Service’s collection and analysis functions...”

Bahdi said the prohibition on torture was part of Canadian law long before the C-3 amendment. But CSIS needs to be made accountable, she said. “There has to be a cultural shift in CSIS so they take seriously the prohibition on torture and understand it’s not there to tie their hands behind their backs so they can’t do their work, but to ensure that their work has some integrity. … If torture produced national security, the regimes in the Middle East would be the safest places in the world.” [emphasis mine]

CSIS head urged government to fight ban on information obtained through torture

(Image: Torture Museum 4522, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from thukral's photostream)


    1. Maybe there are counter-studies that show torture is an effective and reliable intelligence tool that doesn’t dehumanize us all while undermining basic civil rights and shitting all over due process, but all those studies had to be kept secret for security reasons.

  1. I thought Canada was inoculated against such American diseases. My children will move there to farm the globally-warmed tundra one day soon. I was hoping they would escape our insanity.

  2. Someone should tell this guy that torture doesn’t produce valid confessions anyway.  There are plenty of studies on it, maybe he should read one?

    Oh, and of course that it’s pretty evil and masochistic, that too.

    1. The folks exclaiming that ‘torture doesn’t work’ are buying into the public rhetoric and framing of the policymakers clamoring for and using it. Torture is not intended to rapidly produce actionable intelligence. Torture is adopted as a public policy to inspire fear and dread in those who would oppose the implementing regime, especially the regime’s domestic constituency.

      So congratulations, while you (probably) aren’t a victim of torture, you sure as hell are one of the intended targets.

      1. Lexicat, it’s never going to change until the public educates one another on facts surrounding the issue.  As long as the public thinks they and their families are safer because of torture, there’s never going to be enough public outcry and ACTION to stop it.

        I’m not “buying” into any bullshit by embracing and disseminating facts that can help to educate others.

        1. Yo Cowicide.

          (In case it’s not clear: I am opposed to torture, and specifically address it in the professional ethics material in the public health courses I teach. I am also a big fan of ongoing education across the lifetime.)

          My point is that the narrative frame “state torture is an intelligence gather tool” is a blind to actual motivation for state torture.

          You can educate the whole damn world about how torture is a piss poor method to rapidly acquire intelligence, but that’s not going to address the actual motivation of the policy makers, which is to propagandize broadly against dissent and opposition to their regimes. Meanwhile, when you “win” that debate in the broad discourse, the frame will shift to “taking a hard line against really bad guys” or whatever bullshit, and in the meantime you will still have failed to address what torture is intended to accomplish.

  3. So, does this mean the west has completely discarded the notion of being moral and civilized….Canada, FFS.

  4. Look, America already has several kinds of torture. If Canada doesn’t start making some of their own, there will be a torture gap!

  5. I would like to know what “use” means in this case. I agree that information gained from torture should be inadmissible in court, but if some less scrupulous government (cough USA) tortures someone and finds out about a plot to bomb buildings in Canada, I think that CSIS should be able to use that information to prevent death and destruction.

    1. This kind of direct cause and effect between one person being tortured/interrogated and thwarting a terrorist plot is the stuff of 24.  In real life, things are much more complicated.  Little pieces here and there are put together to form a bigger picture of what will (or might) happen.  One single victim tortured will not be enough to find and dismantle the bomb.

    2. That … doesn’t actually happen except in movies.  Torture makes the victim eager to tell his torturer anything he thinks he wants to hear.  Like that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction all around Tikrit, or naming a few conspirators.  He’ll make it up – he can’t tell the difference after torture.

      The only actionable intelligence that real interrogators get is from building actual, genuine trusting relationships with prisoners and making them believe it’s in their own best interest to help their captors – and that doesn’t mean making the pain stop, it means helping their families out of an oppressive regime, or whatever will actually help them.  Actual, real help.

      Our current torture techniques, and I am not making this up, were developed by Soviet and Chinese Communists to get their political prisoners to sign “confessions”.  That’s all you get from torture – political “confessions” or naming other witches or other entirely bogus non-information that only serves to divert our actual resources from actual problems that could be addressed if our soi-disant “leadership” didn’t get a massive hard-on from the idea of torture.  And yeah, Mr. Barack Change-you-got-suckered-into-believing-in Obama, I’m looking at you.

      So if you want CSIS to go off spending taxpayer money on bullshit that isn’t real, then by all means allow them to use tortured “evidence”.  But if you believe that reality is to be discovered and not invented, you’re better off being professional.

      1. And we have prime examples of these techniques being used by police in the US.  Look how many people were put in jail after “confessing” during an 18 hour session with someone manipulating them.  Some get lucky and DNA clears them later and calls into question the techniques being used to get the confession, but how many people don’t have DNA to destroy a confession given under duress.

      2. Yes, torture is ventriloquism.

        Torture of individuals that is.  But that’s not what the US has been doing.

        They torture the individual, AND they torture his fellow insurgents AND they torture anyone who might happen to know him. Then they compare notes to see whose story doesn’t match. It’s a DATA MINING operation. The more people they torture, the more accurate a picture they get.

        This is why Gitmo had to be expanded AND they had interrogation centers in Eastern Europe and Morocco AND they were torturing in Iraqi prisons AND they were torturing in Afghanistan AND STILL they had to farm out torture to places like Syria and Egypt.  It’s why they even tortured people they had only the vaguest suspicions about. (Like Canadian Maher Arar and a growing number of other people tortured, cleared and eventually let go with an “er, never mind.”   They were trying to get as big a dataset as possible.

        Done this way it’s even more evil.  A lot more innocent people get tortured.  But it’s not ventriloquism.

        1. It’s still ventroloquism – each individual torturer can be biased – “Tell me what you know about X, and detail Y”. And pretty soon you’ll have a large dataset about X and detail Y, even though detail Y may never have existed.

      3. Spot on; the irony is that if these people want accurate information, they need to be doing the opposite of torture.

        You’d think that basic psychology would be a fundamental educational step for anyone that has any interaction with suspected criminals.

      4. Certainly, but banning “derivative information” is the major problem I have with this. It is saying that CSIS must ignore information it knows to be true because it was initially found through torture. I’m not saying that this is likely, or that torture should be happening. I’m saying that if you don’t allow CSIS to use information that can be shown to be true through legitimate means, then you will be hindering their ability to do work.
        On the other hand, what will probably happen is CSIS will ignore the rule just as we ignore rules about internet piracy that get in our way.

        1. If this were allowed then law enforcement would ignore their limits in the pursuit of justice.

          For instance, you have the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. If the cops do it anyway, find something, and you are prosecuted, then your right is meaningless.

          If CSIS is forced to ignore information it got through torture, it will stop using torture. Then they’ll never have this “24” type scenario presented to them, where they know something they could not have known.

          1. Ok, I’m starting to agree with you. The one sticking point for me is that CSIS doesn’t torture people, other governments do. Specifically: the United States, our closest ally (at least physically). So when the CIA comes to CSIS and says “We have important information for you.”
            CSIS will reply “Oh goody! -but wait. How did you get it?”
            “Don’t worry CSIS it was through completely legal means.”
            “But CIA, some things that are legal in your country are considered evil and wrong in mine.”
            “Do you want the information or not CSIS? I’m the intelligence wing of the most powerful country in the world and you are wasting my time.”
            “Well, if people were tortured at any point to get this information, I can’t look at it.”
            “C’mon man, we only tortured one guy and then we did a really thorough investigation using the legit methods, it all checks out.”
            “WHY DID YOU TELL ME THAT? Now I can’t use any of this information, goodbye.”

            I guess my problem is that the law makes it very difficult to trust/use the information coming from our nearest neighbour.

  6. Eliza Manningham-Buler, when she was head of MI5, pushed hard for torture to be formally outlawed in the UK, and she did it in order to protect MI5 and it’s people. Her overall position on torture is very interesting, especailly since she was involved in the thick of the intelligence world since 9/11. Before then too, of course, but her experiences in relation to combating terorism are especially relevant in the context of the CSIS request.

    Earlier this year she gave three Reith Lectures, which are available on the BBCs site. The easiest way to find and access them is probably through her Wikipedia page. THey make for fascinating listening.

  7. So why hasn’t the head of CSIS been arrested for inciting a mob of thugs to criminal violence?

    There’s a dude in Canada who has been awaiting trial (in prison!) for one year for taking pictures of the G20 fence while owning (at home) a potato gun and a chemistry set.

    Let no one rest safe in the foolish notion that our country is any less fucked than any other in the Western world.

  8. “He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. ” — Friedrich Nietzsche

  9. Canada, you’re going to need a lot more than torture to protect yourself from America!  Trebuchets at the ready!  Ameeeeericaaaaa, fuck yeah!

    1. Canada, you’re going to need a lot more than torture to protect yourself from America! Trebuchets at the ready!

      Put Celine Dion in the trebuchet and we’ll surrender immediately.

  10. Someone should tell them torture doesn’t even work.  Unless you’re interested in a perpetual a witch trial I suppose … then it can work wonders to keep the farce going.  Relevant search terms:  Salem, USSR, War Against Terror.

    1. Torture works just fine, as long as your goal isn’t getting information but keeping a populace afraid.

  11. It should be noted, that in Canada, torture includes such offenses as ‘not putting bacon on a meal on request’, ‘not greeting prisoners with a “good morning” and a Double Double,’ and ‘maliciously restricting access to hockey’.

    (I have to joke, it’s too depressing otherwise).

      1. not to ruin your joke, but RCMP hasn’t had an espionage division (that the public knows about anyway) since CSIS was formed.

  12. Why does every country on the face of the planet seem to be trying as hard as it possibly can to be fascist and downright evil these days? Is there a big factory somewhere that’s been continuously churning out ready-made brownshirts since the 1980s?

      1. Or that the populace is now better informed than it ever has been, thanks to the Intertuben.  (If they want to be informed, that is, as is likely true of people posting here.)

  13. Yes, because countries that torture (or outsource torture) are really worth defending. Torture is like poison gas–of little offensive value and deleterious to the moral of one’s own side (especially when the wind changes).

    Screw it. Let al-Qaeda come and take it. Chances are the leaders will be hung for war crimes first of all. On the other hand, your Harpers, Blairs and Cheneys would be the first to cut a deal for themselves and their own.

  14. I’m against torture.  Very.  But I don’t see a request to make torture legal or to protect the act.  What I read above is someone asking that information not be made inadmissible regardless of where that information has come from. 

    I’m not 100% certain as to what is specifically going on here, so I don’t know whether I should be a deeply concerned Canadian citizen or not, but what I do know, is that the head line has taken a huge leap of faith in it’s interpretation of the information contained within.

    1. Being able to use information gained from torture is pretty much the same thing as being able to torture.

      They’ll just outsource it, and still get useless information; and still be responsible for continued human suffering and the destruction of human rights.

    2. “I’m not 100% certain as to what is specifically going on here, so I don’t know whether I should be a deeply concerned Canadian citizen or not, but what I do know, is that the head line has taken a huge leap of faith in it’s interpretation of the information contained within. ”

      So, you admit you don’t know what’s going on, apparently to the point of not having even RTFA, and you accuse others of “making a leap of faith”?

      Let me tell you – if you knew much of the recent history of CSIS, the Harper regime in Canada, and the relationship of the two to torture, you would realize just how absurd your own leap of faith here is.

  15. To reinforce my earlier comment, I just skimmed through the memo itself – it really isn’t a request for a lenience on torture.  It comes across as a plea by the service that essentially states that chasing after the exact source of the information and determining whether or not that information could have possibly been gleaned from torture, would be a serious hindrance to the service’s ability to effectively protect the nation from terrorist plots.

    1. Unfortunately, there is a major practical problem that arises when people are allowed to operate under that (arguably potentially reasonable) argument for any length of time: 

      If it is OK to use information whose provenance is murky, there is a strong incentive to ‘launder’ any crimes committed to obtain information by simply outsourcing them to somebody else and then looking the other way and whistling until the results are handed back to you(as the US did to their various known-torture-happy allies before we just gave up on the charade entirely and started doing it in-house). 

      This is why the “” doctrine is(ideally) applied in US criminal cases: Since internal safeguards against misconduct are known to be weak almost to the point of futility, we impose the threat of having tainted evidence struck down by the defense counsel. Hardly perfect; but a much bigger threat than most other possible sanctions for misconduct.

      The ability to use unknown evidence becomes the de facto ability to use illegally derived evidence(just by looking away in order to turn it into unknown evidence), which becomes the de facto ability to illegally derive evidence(just by handing it to some dodgy ally and then looking away).

      If there were reason to suspect that there is actually a body of “Golly shucks, we just honestly don’t know how this evidence was derived; but it is still useful despite our not knowing that” evidence available, and reason to believe that mission creep would never lead them beyond that body, there might be a case to be made. Unfortunately, history suggests that the second definitely doesn’t hold, and the first is shaky…

      1. I agree with dismissing evidence obtained illegally in criminal cases. Bad cops can go fuck themselves.

        This, I’m not so sure about, though. When it comes to national security the stakes are higher.

    2. If it came from torture, it’s probably incorrect to start with.  If they don’t know the provenance it’s not actually information at all, now is it?

  16. I remember when Canada was a free country,
    when it was the conscious of the US
    and not its puppet slave toddy.

    Now whenever Uncle Homeland says jump
    Canada quickly responds with
    “How high Uncle Homey?”
    “Torture, sure we can do that!”

  17. Canada is falling into the same dark abyss as the USA. Conservatives are destroying this country and we too are losing our Democracy. Corporatocracy is taking over.

    1. Canadians see Americans with something and scream, “Me too!” and within five years, there it is in their chilled little hands. It doesn’t matter how shittily it turned out for the US. 

      We’re a country of pathetic wannabes.

    2. Well, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain have all made recent statements insisting that they’d bring back torture. And they all have Jesus on their side, right?

      What confuses us Canadians is that other candidate, Ron Paul, who insists that torture is an issue that should be left to the states…

  18. I am all for torture, provided we make the people voting for it go through it first.

    Torture is an abstract concept to most people.  It is another boogeyman like “terrorists” or “Islamic extremist”.  It is meant to trigger an emotional response, and not knowing how or what they actually do the mind does what it does best.  it fills the gap with the most horrific things imaginable.

    Torture  is evil, vile, hideous, but it is meant to create “fear” in the enemy.  The problem is the “enemy” already hates us enough to sacrifice their life… you think some waterboarding will be enough to change that perception?  Oh and while your waterboarding that one, 5 more will see/hear the story and take up arms against you.  And you think this is a good idea.

     Your willing to send nameless faceless people to detention centers to have “torture”, then you should damn well know what your signing them up for.  It is one thing to find victims and have them speak, but that hardly has the same impact as say putting the “Harper Government” into isolated cells, and having firehoses used on them, blaring music, threats made to their families, unless that admit to something.

    But then we elect these people who can’t be bothered to read the bills they vote for, or to take 2 minutes to see how it might be used in ways other than the lobbyist promised.

    Our world leaders are stupid.  They are fighting the “war” of today with the tools of the 1950s.  Those are the tools that lead us to where we find ourselves, it might be time to stop and try something different.  I’d hate to see where we end up in another 25 years of trying to prove we are powerful and unafraid. 

    When your people start to fear you as much, if not more, than the terrorists you have completely fucked up your job.

    1. I agree with you 100% except that we are not fighting using techniques of the 1950’s.  Intelligence experts then and now knew it was the worst way to get information. They are using techniques from the fifteenth century, the dark ages.

  19. Inflicted agony inspires fear. 
    Torturing  is raw terrorism. 

    According to Max Weber, only the state can give legitimacy to any use of violence. 
    And that is the only difference I can see. 
    A  government uses torture as “legitimate-ish” terrorism. 

  20. Oh, I see! It’s not about having the ability to torture, or even about using information gained through torture. The way this is worded, if, say, the Americans tortured some guy who told them that so and so in Canada was a criminal or a terrorist, and the Americans said, “Hey, this guy says that guy’s a terrorist! Do something about it, Canada!” then even if our own, non-torture based investigation demonstrates the Americans were right, the evidence would be inadmissible, because even though it could be obtained through unique means, it would qualify as derivative evidence. In other words, even if it WASN’T derivative, they could argue that it was and get a huge bulk of evidence removed.

  21. And here I was depressed that the Canadian… er… Harper Government (as he has so decreed it) was taking Canada’s excellent food safety program down to a complete zero (or at least, something resembling a complete zero).

    And now we’re going to be tortured for what we don’t know, too.

    Clearly, we’re simply watching Harper transition from Prime Minister of Canada to governor of America’s 51st State. I think he’ll call it, “Harperland.”

  22. Providing evidence that torture doesn’t work WON’T WORK on conservatives. Conservatives are against using evidence in all forms of reasoning behind simple accounting on a budget. That’s why they are conservative.

    1. Obviously, it would take a conservative to experience torture to be against it.

      Take, John McCain, for example, who was held as a prisoner of war and had his arms broken so badly that he can’t raise them anymore. He’d be totally against torture.

      What? He’s for torture?


      Okay, I don’t know what it would take, then.

      1. Take, John McCain…What? He’s for torture?

        He was against it until he sought to be the Republican Presidential candidate.

        1. I guess friends shouldn’t let friends run for the Republican presidential candidacy?

          The CBC had played a pre-9/11 interview with McCain and he sounded like the nicest, good-natured, level-headed man ever. The transformation into what he became is astonishing.

          I hate to say it, but the best chance to restore sanity on the conservative side is the libertarian movement. I mean, if I’m going to trade edible food for more freedom, I’ll take my chances with freedom. And since I’ve lost my edible food, I’ve got nothing to lose.

    2. Nobody is reading the damn article. It’s irrelevant whether torture works. In fact this is about cases where it does “work”, i.e. it produces useful and correct information. The question is whether we use that information because it was obtained in a barbaric way.

  23. This rhetoric regarding torture came on the discovery that the master maple syrup recipe was compromised.  They cannot allow any other secrets to get out. 

  24. What excluded middle am I missing when it seems like the only motivations could possibly be stupidity or evil? What is left when Hanlon and Occam fail?

  25. Slip-Slidin’ Away…
    Slip-Slidin’ Away…
    You know the nearer your destination,
    the more you’re slip-slidin’ away…
    (cue Canadian national anthem)

  26. The “golden rule” revisited: “the law applies to everyone equally.” Does/did he not realize he’s saying it’s “OK” if HE’S tortured, you know, as long as it’s admissible in Canadian court? 

    Did I miss something? An eye for an eye (still) leaves everyone blind and two wrongs (still) don’t make a right, even when you REAAAAALLY want them too.

    Utilitarianism is a philosophy of excuses. (Spanking anyone?)

    We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard first, BEFORE we can expect anything like justice.

  27. I think this has less to do with CSIS doing torture, and more to do with accepting information from US sources that may have been obtained using torture. Considering their track record of  no WMD’s, throwing Canadian’s in prison with no recourse, handing over Canadian’s to places like Syria for torture, not finding Osama for over 10 years, or pretty much anything, I would say we aren’t really missing out on much.

    I think Judd’s point is it is just another resource to use, and it would limit what information they can use. However I think it is bigger than that, we as Canadian’s have to send the message that we do not accept this behavior at all. This is something to which there should be no compromise. Not only does this have to do with our international profile, but as some Canadian’s found out, can directly effect you. This should be an easy decision.

  28. It’s worth noting that the amendment to C-3 was passed by the government, against Judd’s recommendations.
    CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, will always ask for more power and not to have existing powers curtailed. It’s governments job to tell them which requests are reasonable. In this case, government seems to have done its job.

  29. Also relevant; the Harper Government got into trouble a while back over this sort of thing in Afghanistan; we clearly used intelligence from Afghan Intelligence that we knew to be obtained under torture.

    It’s less clear whether or not Canada exploited this by handing over prisoners to the Afghan Intelligence specifically so they could be tortured, and so the information thus extracted could be passed back to us.

    When the matter was raised in Parliament, Harper prorogued. Probably for utterly unrelated reasons!

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