We abhor torture – but that requires paying a price

Torture is wrong because… The holding of prisoners of conscience is wrong because… The oppression of women is wrong because… If you finish these sentences with anything other than …because it violates universal human rights, you leave yourself wide open to attack by your opponents.

Although I am sure that Britain is a happier country than Saudi Arabia and that a sensible person would rather live in France than Cuba, the case for basing societies on liberties is not a utilitarian one. Listen to the current debate on rights, however, and you will find that virtually everyone involved pretends that we can enjoy them without paying a price; that a cost-benefit analysis will always show gain without pain.

On the face of it, the Court of Appeal upheld universal human rights when it decided to release a summary of US intelligence that showed American interrogators had shackled Binyam Mohamed, a suspected supporter of the Taliban, and subjected him to sleep deprivation. But a closer examination shows that the judges did not say that Mohamed was entitled to evidence that supported his allegation that MI5 was complicit in his mistreatment, regardless of the consequences for the relationship between the British and US intelligence services.
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