Ignatieff on torture

The Liberal leader talks with Maclean’s Editor-in-Chief Kenneth Whyte

Kenneth Whyte

Ignatieff on torture

Q: On the use of torture, an issue you’ve written about, you said that to defeat evil sometimes we have to traffic in evil, and you did advocate indefinite detention of subjects and coercive interrogation. Do you still feel the same way about those matters?

A: I think if you read the entirety of The Lesser Evil—and I think I can ask that it be read and judged in its entirety—I have a very personal horror of torture.

Q: That’s clear in the piece.

A: I believe that we are faced with people who are a danger to Canadian national security and a danger to our way of life, and we’re part of a global effort, not a war on terror but a global effort, to defeat extremism, and the message in The Lesser Evil, the metaphor that was key to me in The Lesser Evil, was democratic states have to fight this battle with one hand tied behind their back, and it’s because they tie one hand behind their back that they win. So getting to the issue of interrogation, interrogation has to be consistent with Canadian law, consistent with international conventions—like the Convention on Torture—consistent with our international obligations. It has to be rigorous and thorough, because we’re up against some threats to our security, but it must be within the traditions of the Canadian Charter and the applicable laws, and it must be subject to democratic scrutiny.

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Q: Does Canadian law allow for coercive interrogation?

A: I don’t believe we should engage in those forms of coercive interrogations. Rigorous interrogation can take place without actions that would disgrace us morally or legally.

Q: What’s the difference between coercive and rigorous interrogation?

A: Rigorous interrogation is consistent with Canadian law and international standards.

Q: So it’s not coercive.

A: Not coercive.

Q: So you no longer believe that coercive interrogation is advisable.

A: When I talked about coercive interrogation, people then made the allusion right away to torture. That was never, ever, ever intended/desired/stated. There is a clear line between tough interrogations that stay on the right side of the law and stuff that gets into the area of moral disgrace, and I’ve always been clear what that line is.

For the complete interview, pick up the Feb. 16 issue of Maclean’s, on newsstands now.