We must stand up and tell those like Trump who support the cruel, debasing practice that it has no place in the modern world, writes Grant Bayldon, the Executive Director at Amnesty International New Zealand.

Torture makes for easy Hollywood story-lines - if you've ever watched the blockbuster series 24 you'll know what I mean. As agent Jack Bauer sets to work with the pliers or the blow-torch, evil plots are revealed, saving countless lives and cutting through the TV-tedium of careful intelligence gathering and policing.

We can only guess that shows like 24 have been on high rotation at the Trump penthouse over the years. Why? Because in response to the horrific Brussels attacks presidential hopeful Donald Trump called for a "hell of a lot worse than waterboarding" of terror suspects.

This isn't another Trump throw-away line; it's part of a theme he's been working for several months. First he pledged to bring back the expansive use of torture by US forces, then even advocated the killing of terrorists' families. It's easy to dismiss it as the latest piece of posturing from a politician who has built his following by shamelessly saying what he thinks people want to hear. But here's the thing: torture is still frighteningly real and widely practiced.

Before Amnesty International started work to bring torture to light in the 1970s most people thought it was a medieval relic from the history books.


In the subsequent UN Convention against Torture, countries pledged to eradicate torture worldwide. But in the last five years alone, Amnesty International has reported on the use of torture in a staggering 141 countries - that's three quarters of the world.

Not only is its use rampant, but torture retains a surprisingly large amount of public support. A recent Amnesty International survey across 21,000 people in 21 countries revealed that 39 per cent think that torture is sometimes necessary and acceptable.

But what Donald Trump and the writers of shows like 24 don't tell us is this: torture is no way to keep your country safe.

Here's the main problem. People will say pretty much whatever they think you want them to, to make the pain stop. At best this is a waste of time and resources; at worst it starts wild goose chases that imprison the innocent and cost lives.

Torture ... breaches the very basis of international law and respect for human rights.


Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed to numerous fictitious plots during a staggering 183 sessions of waterboarding - a form of torture that goes back to the Spanish Inquisition - which he endured in a single month at the hands of the US government.

But there's no need to take my word for its ineffectiveness. After a $40 million, 6000-page report, that was also the conclusion of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA's systematic use of torture during the 2000s. It simply hadn't worked.

There are numerous other reasons for the world to finally stamp out torture. As the US experience at Abu Ghraib Prison shows, it quickly gets out of hand. Of those who are tasked with the grisly task of carrying it out, all but psychopaths will be brutalised. It breaches the very basis of international law and respect for human rights. And as the frequent Isis footage of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib Prison show, it is a perfect recruitment tool for terrorists.

What we most need from would-be leaders like Donald Trump is the moral leadership to speak out against this barbaric practice. But he is not alone in this failure - alongside him are some of New Zealand's allies, trading partners and close neighbours.

This is a leadership test that former US President George W. Bush failed by setting up a programme of torture. Amnesty International calls for his arrest whenever he travels outside the United States.

It's a leadership test that Chinese President Xi Jinping has failed by presiding over a vast system of "black prisons" and a legal system where even lawyers can end up being tortured simply for persisting in raising claims on behalf of their clients.

And it's a test that Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has so far failed by protecting the perpetrators of torture during the military government's rule.

In my work for Amnesty International I often meet survivors of torture, both here and overseas. There are more among us in New Zealand than most of us are aware - often they have come here as refugees. Their heartbreaking stories are reminders of the true face of torture.

They were the teenagers brave enough to take to the streets to protest against the Iranian government's rigged elections. They were the mothers interned following the horrific final days of the civil war in Sri Lanka. They were the sons and daughters unfortunate enough to have been born into the oppressed Rohingya minority group in Myanmar.

Now they are New Zealand citizens. And for their sake and for the sakes of thousands more survivors like them around the world, we need to stand firm and say to Donald Trump and anyone else who still advocates for torture, that it is an odious and outdated practice that has no place in the modern world.