Monday, May 29, 2006

Google map and fuel to fire

Lasting News has created a Google Map in which Torture Awareness Month activities can be stored. If you are planning an event, or know of one, please add it to the map. I've started adding entries from the Calendar to it, but I'm not finished yet, so if anyone wants to try it out...

A few days ago, Bush was asked what his biggest regret was. Many blogs have covered the first answer he gave ("bring it on"), but I thought his second admission was interesting as well. Bush said:

I think the biggest mistake that's happened so far, at least from our country's involvement in Iraq, is Abu Ghraib. We've been paying for that for a long period of time. And it's -- unlike Iraq, however, under Saddam, the people who committed those acts were brought to justice; they've been given a fair trial and tried and convicted.

It is interesting on two counts. First, because he admits what many of us have been saying for some time, namely that these tactics are more harm than they're worth. For example, ICG released a report earlier this year on how best to counter the insurgency. Four out of their 6 recommendations were about ending human rights abuses committed by the Coalition and their Iraqi allies. These suggestions were not made because it is the moral thing to do, but because the strategic price, in terms of good will and trust, is higher than the benefits derived.

Bush's response was also interesting because he asserts that the people responsible have been brought to justice. The Daily Irrelevant has a nice summary of why that claim is not accurate. To date, no commanding officers have been prosecuted.

Unfortunately, the innaccuracy on the second count exacerbates the unhappy truth identified in the first. If the mere fact of Abu Ghraib damaged the war effort, how much worse is it made by the continuation of these policies, and the lack of accountability from the higher-ups? What's done is done, but it is not done with. The Coalition will continue to pay for Abu Ghraib until this policy is ended, and the victims of these abuses and their communities are given justice and closure.

Recommended video: Lifting the Hood- The Prisoners of Abu Ghraib, Dateline Nov 2005. Streaming video and transcript

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Some reading and some vids

Kudos is due to Blogger Round Table, who is calling around and emailing friends for a community action. If you can do this, I would encourage you to check out the website and see if there's anything there that would interest you. There are also a few ideas on the Calendar. Blogger Round Table also has a nice fact sheet to read.

Raising Cain has a post up summarising the el-Masri case and his thoughts on it.

The Lady Speaks has a lovely Memorial Day tribute from the perspective of someone who grew up in a military family.

A Small Group of Thoughtful, Committed Citizens links to a Q&A session that was held on the Amnesty International (USA) website last month.

I'd also like to highlight our newest member, Two Babes and a Brain. It is run by Lisa and Chris, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively. Their blog is a fine example of how informal bipartisan dialogue can take place in a time when it is so desperately needed.

The Osterley Times links to online video of FRONTLINE's documentary The Torture Question. You'll need a browser that can run video within it.

While we're on the topic of videos, I'd also recommend the following link, which is the torrent file for the Stanley Milgram experiment: Download Torrent here (it's hard to get legitimate original copies). You can also find a good description of it on Wikipedia here.

This landmark experiment demonstrated that all of us have a tendency to obey authority. While this is usually a good thing, it can be misused. In this experiment, it was demonstrated that a large proportion of people would be willing to electrocute someone to death given the right conditions. Namely, when a person in a position of authority tells them to, and when they believe that it's for a higher purpose (in this case, science).

The important thing to remember here is that these were ordinary people like you and me. They were not psychopaths or sadists. Although it's unpleasant to admit it, the knowledge that we too are capable of this is a powerful tool towards a compassionate understanding of the position in which we have put the men and women who serve us. We have a responsibility to make sure that their instinct to trust and obey for the greater good will not be taken advantage of. And in cases where it has, we must not allow them to be thrown to the dogs while the responsible parties escape justice.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Calendar and WordPress

The blogroll is still growing -- keep spreading the word :-)

Some book-keeping. First, I've noticed that the events held by various participants are scattered on their respective sites, so I've created a calendar of activities here.

I've also heard that WordPress doesn't play nice with the blogroll. Jenn from The Lady Speaks sent me the following alternate code for people who use WordPress:

I also found this webpage on putting a blogroll on WordPress. I haven't tested that one myself though, so I can't guarantee it will work.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Day 3

Welcome new blogroll participants! I want to extend a special welcome to Nadia, an Iraqi blogger, who writes at Talking about Iraq.

The January 2005 HRW report The New Iraq? Torture and ill-treatment of detainees in Iraqi custody alerted us to the fact that the new Iraqi govt's Interior Ministry was torturing and mistreating detainees as early as June 2004. This was done with the complicity of Coalition forces (see Chapter 6, paragraph 2, and Chapter 7). It was not until November 2005, when more than 170 prisoners were found at an Interior Ministry compound, that the US media started reporting in earnest about Interior Ministry abuses. Of course, Iraqis had known about these abuses well before then, and through blogs and independent reporting, had informed those Western citizens who were accessing those channels.

It is difficult not to postulate a clear chain of causality, from Guantanamo, to "gitmoizing" Abu Ghraib, to collaboration between US forces and the Interior Ministry, to the human rights abuses of the Interior Ministry today. I would posit that the horrific human rights abuses committed by the new Iraqi Interior Ministry are, in part, a consequence of these earlier policies. Apart from compelling moral reasons to oppose torture, there are clear pragmatic reasons as well.

Beautiful Horizons links to Mark Kleiman, from which I take the following quote:

... torture at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, and in the network of secret prisons has, on balance, made the country less safe rather than more safe, both by increasing the number of people who hate the United States enough to do something about it and by morally degrading the people and organizations we rely on for our defense.

That's not the only reason to be against torture; it would be wrong even if it worked. But it's a good reason, all the same.

The Lady Speaks discusses our responsibilities in light of this knowledge:

Future generations will look back on this time in our history as one of shame and disgrace, when a President chose to use semantic manuevering to ignore both moral law and the Geneva Convention. It is time we as a nation stand up and tell President Bush 'No more. Not in our name'.

Time to get your diaries out and take some positive action.

Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition Intl are holding an international 24 hour fast on 01 June. If you are interesting in joining in or organising a group to join, you can find a sign-up form here.

There are plenty more actions on the website above and on the Torture Awareness Month website, which I'll keep you updated on as their time draws near.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Day 2

What an incredible day. The blogroll has doubled in size, and I've been marvelling at the diversity of bloggers that have joined. We have a person from Germany, a Bangladeshi, a Bengali, a Londoner, a Prof in Anthropology and his friends, and a biotech worker currently residing in Australia, just to name a few.

Truly this is an issue that cuts across all creeds, all politics, all national boundaries. What a precious thing to have in a time when wedges are being driven between us, that we should remind ourselves of our shared values and our common humanity.

In that vein, I thought I'd mention a multi-faith effort called National Religious Campaign Against Torture. There is a petition there that can be signed. If you are a person of faith, why not take a copy with you to your place of fellowship this week?

Finally, a technical note. Those of you using blogger, instructions for adding links to your template can be found here. I find it's best to "republish entire blog" (rather than just "republish index only") if you want the template changes to affect all of your blog (instead of just the front page).

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The first day

The first day of the Bloggers Against Torture blogroll is coming to a close for me, and I'm delighted with the results. It's wonderful to 'meet' all of these new bloggers around the world who are ready and willing to take a stand against torture. Today I read Lasting News' torture archive (I would encourage you all to take a look at it), and I was struck by how many of you there are out there tirelessly writing, talking, and agitating about this issue. Apart from promoting Torture Awareness Month, I hope that this blogroll can bring people together to share resources, encourage one another, and remind us all of our common goals.

Meade's Maxim, has a wonderful quote on his blog, from which it gets its name. It goes "A small group of committed citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has." They are words to live by.

Mash on Bush's Tortured defense of Torture

Mash at Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying has a very informative post up about the UN Committee Against Torture Report. There's a lot of good technical information on the legal wriggling the US is doing, but I'd like to quote Mash's thoughts on the issue:

For centuries the United States has been a beacon of hope for people fleeing torture and persecution. For centuries the wretched of the earth have pointed to the United States and said, "there, that is where there is hope; that is where there is justice." For centuries people have come to our shores with wounds emotional and physical and we have given them shelter and given them solace. We cannot be the great country we have been, the shining example to the World of human dignity and human achievement, if we allow our Government to torture and destroy all that this country has stood for.

I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that I believe in America. I believe in its professed values, and in its people. But it is difficult to fight for those values in Syria, Jordan, Pakistan, and all of the dark places in the world, when the world's only superpower, the shining city upon the hill, is sending people to these places to be tortured.

I'll close with the words of an Uyghur who is currently detained in Guantanamo. Uyghurs (pronounced wee-gurs) are a Muslim ethnic minority that is being oppressed by the Chinese govt. This fellow is innocent -- swept up by the Northern Alliance and quite possibly sold for a bounty to the US. These words came to us through declassified military documents, released thanks to the ACLU's tireless efforts with the Freedom of Information Act:

[censored name] stated that back home, he used to listen to the United States freedom channel, Radio Free Asia, on the radio. [censored name] advised that Radio Free Asia gives so much hope to the [Uyghurs] ...

The US is the light of hope, and if that light goes out, the whole world will be plunged into darkness.

How can I help?

The goal is to build up a large and venerable network of bloggers to promote Torture Awareness Month by directing traffic here: Torture Awareness Campaign. But even before that can happen, we must build a large and venerable network :-)

A few people have emailed me saying "What can I do to help?" At this stage, I suggest the following actions:

  • Mention Bloggers Against Torture on your blog, either by posting about it, or cutting and pasting the blogroll script into your sidebar.
  • Email friends about Bloggers Against Torture. Especially Big Name bloggers ;-)
  • Mention or link to the Torture Awareness Campaign on your blog.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Being the first

Being the first is always a difficult thing to do. It's taking a risk and putting yourself out there for scrutiny. It's being willing to attack most difficult task -- which is to overcome the initial inertia and get the ball rolling. That's why I want to thank the following bloggers for being the first on the Bloggers Against Torture Blogroll:

  1. Meade's Maxim
  2. Phillybits
  3. Bush Out
  4. The Dark Wraith Forums
  5. Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying
  6. Greetings From America's Finest City
  7. Anything They Say
  8. The 3rd World View
  9. Aunty Ism
  10. The Osterley Times

When the blogroll is old and venerable, we'll remember that these early bloggers made it happen.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Welcome to Bloggers Against Torture!

As many of you know, there is growing evidence that Coalition governments, including the United States, are systematically engaging in the use of torture and inhuman treatment as part of the Global War on Terror. As citizens of these nations, we have a responsibility to keep our own governments accountable. We want to make our voice heard, and say, "this is not consistent with our shared values!"

Ah, but standing up against injustice can be lonely business. Who is hearing what we have to say, and are we making a difference?

I believe the key is to network and synergise with others. That's where this blogroll comes in. It's a simple idea: you join up and, if you want, you add the blogroll to your own blog. The image points to a central NGO campaign, and instantly you are linked by other like-minded people, to share information, and to remind one another that we're working together.

I've timed the creation of this blog to coincide with Torture Awareness Month, which is coming real soon in June. This is our opportunity to help out the fine organisations listed on the right in their campaign, by talking about torture, by participating in the activities on the website, and by encouraging our readers to their website. Right now Technorati tells me that there are only 18 mentions of the Torture Awareness Campaign in the blogosphere. I reckon if a few good bloggers join together, we can help make their campaign a success.

List all torture incidents | List deaths | List by technique | List by location
Public support | Government policy | Accountability & cover-ups | Rendition | FoIA docs | NGO reports & legal actn
Consequences & blowback | The New Iraq & other broken promises | The media | The noble few