Friday, June 30, 2006

The obvious solution

Le Thé Chez Vierotchka has a collection of anti-torture videos for your weekend viewing.
As predicted by Paul Reynolds at the BBC, President Bush is refusing to abandon the military tribunals.

The alternative to military tribunal is to conduct trials by court martial or civilian tribunal. This has been the demand of lawyers for the detainees, and should satisfy international legal standards of a fair trial (see HRW on why the military tribunals do not meet the standard).

Instead, President Bush and the US Republican Party are working on ways to get approval for new tribunals. From the BBC:

Within minutes of the court ruling, a small group of Republican senators were working the phones trying to sort out the mess, reports the BBC's Justin Webb in Washington.

A former military lawyer who is leading the efforts to salvage the tribunal system, Senator Lindsey Graham, predicted that the Senate would begin work on ideas for new tribunals within weeks and vote on the plan in September.

Meanwhile, Sen Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican who chairs the powerful judiciary committee, introduced an "Unprivileged Combatant Act" which would, he said, balance "the need for national security with the need to afford detainees with sufficient due process".

SCOTUSblog and Balkinization are good places to go for informed comment on the legal implications. Further reading from Bloggers Against Torture: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying, Daring Depravity (who would appreciate coments and criticisms from readers) ... [please add yourselves in the comments].

Torture school

The US Supreme Court has found that the Bush administration does not have the authority to try terrorism suspects by military tribunal. Shining Light in Dark Corners has a selection of graphs from various news agencies. Reactions from Bloggers Against Torture: Robbie in San Diego, The Osterley Times, Pundit's Blog, Existentialist Cowboy, BlackWhite.

Salon reports on a document released under the FoIA, which prove that Guantánamo interrogators were taught by instructors from a military school that trains U.S. soldiers how to resist torture.

A March 22, 2005, sworn statement by the former chief of the Interrogation Control Element at Guantánamo said instructors from SERE also taught their methods to interrogators of the prisoners in Cuba.

"When I arrived at GTMO," reads the statement, "my predecessor arranged for SERE instructors to teach their techniques to the interrogators at GTMO ... The instructors did give some briefings to the Joint Interrogation Group interrogators."

This document is further evidence of the systematic nature of torture in the war on terror.

The article mentions some of the methods used at SERE, many of which are familiar from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. They include forced nudity, stress positions, isolation, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, exhaustion from exercise, temperature control, exposure to loud music, and "lap dances".

Consider the descriptions given by an anonymous Army Ranger who completed the SERE course:

  • Interrogators desecrated an American flag, stepped on a copy of the Constitution, and "kicked the Bible around," the Ranger said
  • Stress positions ... are often employed at SERE school. Soldiers are forced into a squatting position with both palms facing up, or an excruciating half crouch with arms extended out straight, called the Iron Man. After a while, "Your legs go numb. Your knees go numb. Your feet tingle," the Ranger said. "It feels like fire. Eventually, you can't hold yourself up."
  • They are kept awake for days, moved about with bags on their heads, stripped naked and interrogated using techniques to provoke humiliation and shame.
  • Instructors at the SERE school pour water over the hooded prisoners, creating the sensation of suffocation.
  • [They get] physical training -- exercise -- to wear them out (c.f. detainee Abu Malik Kenami, for whom physically exhausting exercises were suspected as his cause of death).
  • Without access to a bathroom, prisoners urinate and defecate in their clothes.

An Army spokesperson officially denied that such training takes place.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Big action days

The next few days are going to be action-packed. For those of you who can't attend the activities below, why not try something from this list. For example, you can sign this web petition against extraordinary rendition.

Sunday 25 June

Location: L.A., Barnsdall Gallery Theater, 4800 Hollywood Blvd.
Activity: Speakers including James Yee
Time: 2:00 to 4:00pm (PDT)
Further details: PTVLA website

Location: New York, Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square South.
Activity: Speakers including attorney representing 14 Yemeni prisoners at GTMO
Time: 6:00pm (EDT)
Further details: Source, Shut Down Guantanamo website, Contact 212-477-0351

Location: Georgetown University Law Center, 600 New Jersey Ave., NW, Washington DC 20001
Activity: Teach in
Time: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Further details: Teach in agenda; Source. Also, say hello to Blogger Against Torture Mash, who'll be attending.

Location: Field Park, Williamstown, Mass.
Activity: Vigil
Time: 2 - 2:45 pm.
Further details: Source, call Susan Matsui 413-458-9766 or the First United Methodist Church at 413-458-3183.

Monday 26 June

Location: Washington, Vice President's house
Activity: Vigil
Time: 5.00 to 6.30 pm
Further details: WRRCAT website

Location: New York, Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, 47th street and First Avenue
Activity: Demonstration, Procession to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations to Call on Ambassador John Bolton to Join the International Consensus Against Torture
Time: 10.30 am meet, 11.00 am start, 12.00 - 1pm demonstration at US Mission to UN.
Further details: Source.

Activity: Lobby Day
Location: Location: Capitol Hill
Time: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Further details: Torture Awareness registration.

Location: Washington DC
Activity: 24-hour Vigil
Further details: Flyer; About the Mock Prison Cell that will be on display. Contact to participate; About planned civil disobedience; Source

Location: Washington DC
Activity: Be a Walking Billboard!
Further reading: Source. Contact to volunteer:

Activity: Speakers, music
Location: Minnesota, State Capitol Rotunda directions
Time: 11.30am
Further details: Source

Location: Minneapolis, Minneapolis Healing Center, 717 East River Road,
Activity: Tree planting
Time: 5.00pm
Further details: Flyer; Source

Some articles

Time, 23 June 2006, How Doctors Got Into the Torture Business:

HermesOne of those [interrogation] rules was that a prisoner's medical information could be provided to interrogators to help guide them to the prisoner's "emotional and physical strengths and weaknesses" (in Rumsfeld's own words) in the torture process. At an interrogation center called Camp Na'ma, where the unofficial motto was "No blood, no foul," one intelligence officer testified that "every harsh interrogation was approved by the [commander] and the Medical prior to its execution." Doctors, in other words, essentially signed off on torture in advance.

... Elsewhere in Guantánamo, one prisoner had a gunshot wound that was left to fester during three days of interrogation before treatment, and two others were denied antibiotics for wounds. In Iraq, according to the Army surgeon general as reported by Miles, "an anesthesiologist repeatedly dropped a 2-lb. bag of intravenous fluid on a patient; a nurse deliberately delayed giving pain medication, and medical staff fed pork to Muslim patients." Doctors were also tasked at Abu Ghraib with "Dietary Manip (monitored by med)," in other words, using someone's food intake to weaken or manipulate them.

Washington Post, 20 June 2006, The Shadow War, In a Surprising New Light (via The Osterley Times and Hermel's Drive-In):

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3" -- a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. ... Dan Coleman, then the FBI's top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality."

Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics -- travel for wives and children and the like. That judgment was "echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President," Suskind writes. And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States." And over the months to come, under White House and Justice Department direction, the CIA would make him its first test subject for harsh interrogation techniques.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Universal values

The grisly reports have been building up over the past few days. Iraqi officials and an Al Qaida website have added their confirmation. As was implied in earlier reports, I think it's safe to say that the two US soldiers found dead recently were in fact tortured to death.

The photograph below is Mario Vasquez uncle of Army Pfc. Kristian Manchaca. He holds up a photo of Kristian, right, with a soldier from his platoon. I wanted to post it because I can't put into words the look on his face. The incredible sadness. It must be the most terrible burden to know that, not only is your loved one gone, but that they left in such a painful and dehumanising manner.

I'm used to looking at pictures of grieving Iraqis and Afghans, but truly, no matter who you are or where you're from, you love your family and grieve for them in exactly the same way. I couldn't help but be reminded of a similar photo of Dilawar's father. Instead of holding a photo, Dilawar's father held his grandchild, a living memory of his lost son. He's turned away from the camera but the face is the same. Or Kurnaz's mother. That same grim, sad look is on her face, the knowledge that her son has been tortured.

I started this blog with the idea that opposition to torture is a universal value, but really, it is the grief and suffering that is universal. It's almost a cliche, but it bears repeating: underneath, we're all humans, and we all feel pain the same way. It is our understanding of this that allows humans to be loving and compassionate, and it is that compassion that helps us choose moral behaviour. Our understanding of pain teaches us how to love.

As we share the soldiers' families' grief, we will remember why we are anti-torture. We would never want to inflict this pain on anyone, not even our worst enemy, and much less on innocent men.

UPDATE: Turkish Delight, a soldier's wife, shares her thoughts on the recent deaths.


Support for Durbin amendment #4341 to Defense authorization bill (S. 2766) "No Rendition to Torture" amendment

In the comments I've put a sample letter to use to draft a fax to your Senators to urge them to support this amendment against rendition. We do not know the exact timing of the vote, but it could be soon so it is critical to make your voice heard today, by fax or phone (via No2Torture email group).

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Something special in the air

(Thanks to Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying)

The comments section are becoming a great place to exchange links and ideas. Please keep commenting.

Make Some Noise! reminds us about the Slate Torture Primer. It's a handy little resource that includes a list and summary of legal issues, which can be an otherwise difficult subject to get one's head around.

I have been dismayed to see certain sectors successfully diminish the recent suicides by presuming that the men in Guantanamo are too low for our concern. Never mind that we know that innocent men have been kept in there. Never mind that it's the kind of place where "evidence" against a 17 year old boy is acquired by torturing another detainee until he is cowering under his bedsheets and muttering to himself. We even have a study, based on data supplied by the Defence Department, saying that 55% of detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies. But a "boo freakin hoo" is enough to render all of that irrelevant.

I wanted to write a post about the tortures that the men at Guantanamo have suffered. The tortures at the rendition sites from which they're sent are especially horrific. But the above made me pause. Unfortunately, it is well known that humans have difficulty empathising with those outside of their own cultural group, and let's be frank, it's not exactly Middle Easterners that we need to convince here. So instead I'll post about what happened to Sean Baker.

Spc. Sean Baker is an American. There's a picture of him on the left. In January of 2003, Baker volunteered in the role of an uncooperative detainee at Guantanamo for the purposes of a training drill. The MPs weren't told it was a drill. They were told that he was an unruly detainee who had assaulted an American sergeant. They subsequently inflicted a beating upon Baker so severe that it resulted in a traumatic brain injury, leaving him with seizures, blackouts, headaches, insomnia and psychological problems.

Baker was lucky. He was wearing his uniform under the orange jumpsuit, and he had enough time to groan "I'm a U.S. soldier" to his abusers to make them check. I wonder how it would have gone for him if his name was Abdul Kareem. What recourse is there for someone who has no rights?

UPDATE: Donkephant links in the comments with a first-hand account of conditions in Guantanamo from one of the Tipton Three. Don't miss what Shafiq has to say about his torturers' reaction to his false confession (towards the end).


Wednesday there is a panel discussion about torture being held at the Martin Luther King Jr Library, Washington. You can find out more here.

Thursday night Frida Berrigan, co-founder of Witness Against Torture, is holding a slide-show and discussion at Carnegie Mellon Uni, Pittsburgh (more here).

Friday night is National Call In Night, which you can participate in from anywhere. There's a rally during the day in Pittsburgh, and the movie The Road to Guantanamo is opening.

Finally, a random sampling of recent Torture Awareness Month posts:

Saturday, June 17, 2006

How you can help the blogroll

A number of you have offered to do extra tasks for the blogroll. Thank you very much for that. The big action days are coming up next weekend, and we'd like to have as many people talking about them as possible. Here's how you can help.

First, those of you who know an anti-torture conservative blogger, please invite them to the blogroll. We know that they're out there because we've got a few on the blogroll already. They are welcome here. [Perhaps I was too indirect in my previous post ;-)]

Second, please invite anyone else that you can think of. Many of you were invited after your anti-torture post turned up on Technorati. That seems to be an effective method of finding interested people.

In other news, there are quite a few members that are prolific anti-torture bloggers (watch out Donkephant). The following is a random sampling of torture resources from our members:

Please leave a comment if you've got a reference you'd like to share. It would be useful to eventually have a complete list of these.

PS: If anyone goes to a calendar event and takes photos, please send me an email, as we'd love to post them here.

Friday, June 16, 2006

It's not happening here, but it's happening now

Thank you to Moving On through which I found the following ad. You can see more here. Pass it on.


Seymour Hersh and others will be speaking Saturday (17 June) at Bethesda, River Road Unitarian Church. You can see the flyer here. The conference agenda is here.

On Sunday (18 June) there will be a panel discussion at The Riverside Church, New York. You can find more details here.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A poll for philosophers and torture apologists

tick ... tick ... tick
There's a bomb somewhere in New York, and it's about to go off. Unfortunately, you don't know where it is.

Given no other choice, how many saved lives would it take before you would consider the following actions justified?

  • Torturing someone.
  • Torturing someone who might not be guilty.
  • Torturing their wife and child.
  • Torturing their wife and child in front of them while we forced them to watch.
  • Raping and torturing their wife and child in front of them while we forced them to watch.
  • Torturing their wife and child as above, to death.

Make the number of lives saved high enough, and you can justify anything. Is that the correct way to go about making functional national policy?

Monday, June 12, 2006

American Medical Association policy

The AMA's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) has adopted a policy stating that it is unethical for physicians to help interrogate prisoners (source 1, source 2).

We have known for some time that health personnel, particularly mental health professionals, have been taking an active role in interrogations. Now, according to the new policy, "physicians in all circumstances must never be involved in activities that are physically or mentally coercive." Doctors who learn of any coercive interrogation are also ethically obligated to report it to authorities.

However, doctors may still participate in developing non-coercive interrogation techniques for general training purposes. In reponse to this, Leonard Rubenstein, Executive Director of Physicians for Human Rights says:

We are deeply concerned even with this level of involvement, because of the ambiguity of that qualifying language. It's simply not reasonable to require a physician to determine, in the abstract, whether a particular interrogation strategy will or will not be used in a way that inflicts harm, or whether it is clearly 'humane' or legal. Given the nature of interrogation, we believe it best, as the APA and WMA policies do, to insulate physicians entirely from the design of interrogation strategies, and we hope the AMA will fine-tune its policy accordingly.

Previously, in May of this year, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) adopted an ethical rule prohibiting psychiatrists from participating in interrogation of prisoners and detainees altogether. This strong stand was welcomed by Physicians for Human Rights.

With respect to the new AMA policy, Rubenstein is quoted as saying (PHRUSA press release)

The new AMA policy goes a long way toward protecting the ethical commitments and integrity of all military medical personnel. While the AMA rule leaves a bit more room for interpretation than do the other medical association policies -- something the AMA can and should quickly remedy -- we believe this policy can only be read as an unambiguous rejection of the Pentagon's use of military physicians to support individual interrogations, as BSCT members or in any other capacity.

Rubenstein added that the AMA, APA and other medical associations can be expected to press for elimination of the BSCT role in view of their new policies banning direct physician involvement in interrogations.

Further reading: Break Them Down: Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by US Forces, a report from Physicians for Human Rights.

One good PR move / One last desperate message

UPDATE: Mark Denbeaux, who represents some of the foreign detainees, told the BBC's World Today programme [that one of the men who committed suicide] was among 141 prisoners scheduled for release (source). His name was Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi Al-Utaybi.

I hope you will always remember that you met and sat with a "human being" called "Jumah" who suffered too much and was abused in his belief, self, in his dignity and also in his humanity. He was imprisoned, tortured and deprived from his homeland, his family and his young daughter who is in the most need for him for four years... with no reason or crime committed...

Take some of my blood... take pieces of my death shrouds... take some of my remains... take pictures of my dead body when I am placed in my grave, lonely... send it to the world.. to the judges... to people with live conscious... to people with principles and values, the "fair-minded"...

To make them carry the burden of guilt in front of the world for this soul that was wasted with no guilt it has ever done...

To make them all carry this burden in front of the future generations for this wasted soul that has done no sin...

To make them carry this burden of guilt in front of history for this soul that was wasted with no reason...

After this soul has suffered the worst by the hands of the protectors of peace and the callers for democracy, freedom, equality and justice...

-- Excerpts from Jumah Abdel Latif Al Dossari's suicide letter, addressed to his interpreter, his co-counsel, and us. (Please note that he was not one of the three who were successful in their suicide attempt).


Katherine at Obsidian Wings has a go at figuring out who the three suicide victims were.

Bloggers Against Torture semi-randomly selected follow ups: Anything They Say, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying, Deep Blade Journal,, No Fish, No Nuts, Suspect Paki.

The Sideshow responds with a bit of pointed humour:

... the commander at Guantanamo Bay has informed us that three people, having been deliberately subjected to several years of demoralization techniques that began with telling them that Gitmo was the terminal stop in their lives, killed themselves as "an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us." (It seems obvious to me that people who believe this should immediately retaliate in kind. That'll show 'em.)

Disenchanted Idealist has a round-up of satire on the Guantanamo suicides, including our own Jon Swift.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Who are we missing from the blogroll?

I have been trying to think of ways in which we can coordinate our Bloggers Against Torture campaign. Obviously it is good for us to support one another, but our ultimate objective is to spread awareness, right? So I've decided to try an experiment.

I want each of you to think of a blogger, preferably one you know, that is part of an "under-represented group" on our blogroll. I then want you to leave them a comment inviting them to join the blogroll. Email me or comment on how it goes.

Some thoughts from an American Mom and a Milblogger

A Tale of Two Beans has some interesting things to say about torture and the political divide

In looking at the Cosponsoring Organizations [for Torture Awareness Month], I saw an interesting list of "liberal" organizations. I must admit that I am definitely a liberal conservative. Or is it a conservative liberal? In reality, I (like many, many Americans) belong to a party that does not exist. I am fiscally quite conservative (stop spending my tax dollars) and socially liberal (I want the US government to stay out of my (and others') private life.)

I wonder how many others feel this way? She also makes the point that she considers being anti-torture to be like the famous American apple-pie. Milblogger Mr Vetinari agrees:

I chose to serve my country because I believe there are principles and a way of life worth defending, even worth dying for. My father and my uncle served in a place where their enemies were a certain communist group who had no reservations about torture. I firmly believe they were fighting on the moral side of that conflict. If the principles we are trying to promote in this world do not include "people should not be tortured", then what ARE our principles? What are our self-evident truths?

Some more thoughts

In our current political climate, it is inevitable that the goals and motivations behind Torture Awareness Month will be misconstrued. This is detrimental to the campaign, and disheartening for those working on it. In my time here and on my own blog, I have noticed certain patterns in the arguments. I would like to share my experience with you, and I encourage you to use the thread below to do the same.

The most common criticism that I have encountered is that campaigning against torture committed by the Coalition is anti-American. The anti-torture position is seen as a convenient way to attack America, and this is often supported with the accusation that human rights abuses elsewhere are being ignored.

Allahpundit at Hot Air provides an example of this reasoning:

Can you really call it Torture Awareness Month if the only torture you're aware of is of the American variety?

Similarly from Yankee Mom

... apparently the U.S. is the Biggest, Baddest Boogeyman when it comes to torture. Now, I guess I need to put a disclaimer in here so that all those anti-American whiners who have no sense of humor or the ability to recognise sarcasm, will not send death threats to my family. I do not condone beheading someone with a dull knife...

Woman Honour Thyself provides a more forceful example:

This alleged concern for torture victims, wherein the organization gets to pick and choose which victims deserve their nuturance is nothing but a feeble attempt to hijack an alleged ideal by a Liberal and Muzlim agenda, which is yet again - to defame America and everything she stands for.

The most important point to remember is that this is a diversionary tactic, whether the person is using it purposefully or being used by it. It is a special form of ad hominem fallacy known as the circumstantial ad hominem. Even if it was true that your only motivation for being an anti-torture blogger is that you find it a convenient way to attack America, that does not change the fact of torture, nor the listeners' moral obligation to address the issue. It is a diversion from the issue at hand.

The following are my suggestions for dealing with it.

The personal attack side

Name the beast. Say outright that this is a personal attack, and irrelevant to the issue at hand. There's no surer sign that someone is losing the debate than to have to resort to an ad hominem attack. They might not admit it, but those watching will notice. Head them off at the first sign of it so that you don't waste too much time on it.

Call them on their presumption. Chances are that you have blogged on torture in countries that aren't America[1], that you are a member of an NGO (or even an employee), and that you have other human rights credentials. From a purely tactical perspective, it was unwise of them to base their argument on something that they no way of knowing anything about. A gentle reminder of this will allow you to get to more substantive issues before the whole thing degenerates.

"Why aren't you blogging against the Syrians?"

Call them on their presumption. Again, there's an assumption here that you aren't actually doing anything about human rights abuse elsewhere. See above.

Rendition to Syria. Several times I have seen this argument framed such that hypothetical country is actually one of the nations to which we rendition. It is generally enough to simply mention this. A few pointed remarks about "mixed messages" can help the process along.

The difference between an authoritarian regime and a democracy. I have found it useful to frame an argument as follows. Even if every single person in a nation is aware that their govt tortures people, it makes little difference if that nation is an authoritarian regime. In such cases, the problem is the govt, not the people. Being that the people are the govt's usual victims, they are usually pretty "aware" of torture anyway. Our best bet is to support NGOs to pressure the govts (see "Call them on their presumption" above). In contrast, Coalition countries like America are democracies, and their victims are generally distant from the citizens' everyday concerns. If enough Coalition citizens were aware of torture, and staunchly anti-torture, our politicians would never allow it to happen. The underlying problem here is not the system of govt, but the people.

The duty of the citizen. Following on from the previous point, a democracy is ultimately governed by its own citizens. It is good to fight against human rights abuse in other countries, but we are first and foremost responsible for what our own govt does. If we cannot even keep our own govts accountable, how can we ever hope to improve the govts of others?

Finally, let me be the first to admit that I've totally blown my cool before while debating this topic. A certain "rws" probably thinks that I'm mentally unstable thanks to an exchange we had a few months ago (I'm too embarrassed to link to it). It's an easy issue to get fired up about, so go easy on yourselves, and remember to step away when it gets too much.

Good luck.

[1] Here's a handy list of blogroll members who have done so: Burma Underground which is all on Burma (Myanmar), Make Some Noise! on Latin America, The Arabist with many posts on Egypt, The Nether-World on Russia, In Flight on Europe.

Oxymoron light

Christopher Brown at Crossing the Line has a must-read post up about the personal meaning that June Torture Awareness Month has for him. For it was on 04 June, 1990, that he was detained by the Security Police in South Africa, and tortured for a year and a half.

But don't worry, they only used "torture light" on him. Sleep deprivation, to be precise, a method that two-thirds of Americans approve of.

Christopher concludes with an interesting observation; a predictor for the type of person who would proclaim that there are times when torture is necessary. Read his post here to find out what that predictor is. Then hope that we can find the compassion to learn right from wrong the easy way.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Make it viral

We are in a unique position. Unlike the totalitarian regimes that we normally associate with human rights abuse, the Coalition countries and their European co-conspirators are democracies. This means that, rather than having to target the regimes themselves, we can effect change through public opinion. If there is enough of a groundswell against torture, particularly in the USA, vote-conscious politicians will have no choice but to take notice. That's why actions that target public opinion, like blogs, like Torture Awareness Month, make sense.

Get the story here.

This position is both a blessing and a curse. While supporting human rights can be as simple as correcting a friends misconceptions, our targets are diffuse. We must be clever about it. If you had few resources, but an important message, how would you go about making sure that your message spread?

From Cool LOking ads, who has other ads from the campaign. See Iran, Zimbabwe, and Myanmar (Burma).

The effect we could have could be very profound. What would happen if everyone became familiar with Den's Den's work documenting torture flights, or were deluged daily with the acerbic wit of The Crazy Bird? Would it still be possible to deny that torture was systemic if everyone read what Scott Horton reads?[1]

This blogroll belongs to all of you. What can you personally do to spread the word? Leave ideas in the comments. In the meantime, let's start with this action (via the no2torture email group).

Next Tuesday (13 June), 27 religious leaders from across the religious spectrum, including Nobel laureates Pres. Jimmy Carter and Elie Weisel, are joining together in an advertisement on the op-ed page of the New York Times, calling for the elimination of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as part of U.S. policy.

You can help amplify the effect of this unprecedented action. Here's what you can do:

  • Blog about it
  • Tell two other people you know about the ad.
  • Take this ad to your house of worship/fellowship this coming weekend and encourage individuals there to endorse the NRCAT "Torture is a Moral Issue" statement.
  • Place this ad in your fellowship's newsletter
  • Put this ad in your regional religious body's newsletter or journal, asking religious leaders in your denomination or faith group to also endorse the ad for that printing.
  • Raise the money to place a copy of this ad in your local newspaper.
  • Send notice of this ad to your congregation's listserve, with the link to the ad (, suggesting that members of the congregation make arrangements for wide re-broadcast to religious and secular groups.
  • Donate funds to NRCAT to keep this campaign moving ahead.

Send a message saying what you did to

[1]: The blogroll has now reached the size where I cannot visit every blog regularly. Please, don't be shy- add yourself in the comments.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Investigation confirms European complicity

A big thank you goes out to Donkephant who has done one ... two ... three ... four(!) torture themed posts for June already. I think we should tie magnets to Cyberotter's fingers, to harness a valuable new renewable energy resource.

Inconvenient News has some news on tomorrow's Guardian article. The Guardian got a sneak preview of a report, which comes from a 7 month investigation study [did not have full investigative powers] by the Council of Europe into rendition flights. Inconvenient News writes:

The report will show that 14 European countries actively colluded with the CIA in facilitating CIA "rendition" flights and the kidnapping of their own citizens by the CIA, or they looked the other way while the CIA operated on their territory. ... The aspect of the report which may receive the most publicity is the finding that Roumania almost certainly, and Poland probably, have allowed the CIA to set up secret prisons on their soil.

I would like to quote from the last press conference held on the topic (April this year), which you can find here

[While we are waiting for the full assessment] we can already draw two important conclusions.

First, the second batch of replies confirmed that virtually none of our member states have proper legislative and administrative measures to effectively protect individuals against violations of human rights committed by agents of friendly foreign security services operating on their territory. It looks as if the analysis of laws and administrative practices regulating the use of civil aircraft will lead to a similar conclusion. Some governments are trying to remedy the situation by asking for diplomatic assurances, a method which in my view has not proven to be adequate and to provide the level of positive protection required by the European Convention of Human Rights.

Second, on the basis of the information I have received so far, I am now in position to say that we no longer need to speak about "alleged" cases of rendition. I am not in a position to go into any further detail at the moment, but we have received official acknowledgment of "handing over" individuals to foreign officials through procedures which ignore the standards and safeguards required by the European Convention on Human Rights and other legal instruments of the Council of Europe. A few other replies contain inconsistencies which we are in the process of clarifying in direct contact with the authorities of the countries concerned.

A press conference will be held at 1pm Paris time (UTC +2), and a video of the press conference will be up at about 4pm (Paris time) here [update: note that rapporteur's comments are in French]. Multimedia and background material from the January meeting is here, but for those who'd prefer a shorter version, Inconvenient News also provides a convenient background post here.

In an interesting coincidence, in my trip around the blogroll today I found two different bloggers writing on a similar theme -- the banalisation of torture. First Make Some Noise writes about torture in South America. Quoting Isabelle Allende:

You learn to live with things. For example, something is taken away, like let's say, the freedom of the press or... yeah, let's say that you're telephones are tapped so you say "Okay, I can live with that" and then the next day something else, and then you say, "Okay, I will have to live with that too," and so forth. And then after a few months, you realize that you have lost everything. But, you got sort of used to it. And then there's a point when you're talking torture at breakfast time with your kids. And all of a sudden you have this epiphany or this revelation in which you realize what kind of life you are having... and then there is a point where I left.

Then Les Politiques writes:

Our governments continue to torture. And with the debate about its justification, it is no more secretive, shameful, brutal and forbidden. It is around us, it is between us, it is with us, it is intractable. So it is something we are starting to talk about, like other things, organise an action day so we may feel good about the issue and powerful only during this day, like action day against mental illness or action day against tobacco or earth action day or mother's day or car free day and so on...

I don't think any of us want to live in a country where torture is breakfast-time conversation with the kids. Yet here we are, being dragged into this mess and being made accessories to this crime, even in Europe. It is our responsibility to stand against it with everything we've got.

Get out your Diary time

ReCollection links to 10 things you can do to shut down Guantanamo.

Today, CCR New York are holding a teach in. You can find out more about it here.

On 13 June, Amnesty BucksMont are holding a panel discussion in West Chester. You can find out more here.


No need to do an update here, as the growing network of Bloggers Against Torture are on the story! See: The Osterley Times,, The Nether-World.

(Add yourself in the comments if I've missed you).

Also Reykjavik Transit has been doing valuable work for some time collating info about the rendition programme.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Roundup and milblogger

I have spent an enjoyable few hours reading posts from Bloggers Against Torture. It's wonderful to see so many well-informed, passionate bloggers, and I'll be highlighting them in the coming weeks.

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying has a very informative post on John Yoo and the legal justifications the Administration developed to support their torture policy. He also has a round-up of posts from other Bloggers Against Torture, including Donkephant's refresher course on torture in the WOT.

A special welcome goes out to military blogger, The Man from Missouri. I emailed The Man asking what the main issue most non-military people would miss in considering torture. He sent me the the following post, and this message

... we should think of how torture effects the torturers as well as the tortured. These are people who we expect to follow the most heinous of orders and then return to normal lives as our neighbors, co-workers, and friends.

To me, that is the point that we miss. That when we accept sending Americans to do these things for a year or two, they carry those marks with them - secretly - every day for the rest of their lives. Not everyone is changed in the same way, but many are.

Blogger Round Table discusses what the Stanley Milgram experiment revealed about the effects of torture on the torturer: One experimental subject said
he felt like a "basket case" and an "emotional wreck" which continued afterward when he realized "that somebody could get me to do that stuff".

Aunty Ism picks up a similar theme:

What better way to create a platoon of terrorists than by addicting them to adrenalin, and setting them loose after years of panic induced delirium to get their fix by enacting revenge on their captors.

What better way to train a platoon of soldiers capable of torturing what is perceived to be a group of dehumanized objects. They then return home to walk the civlian streets of America. Who would be better able to enforce Martial Law: someone trained to respect the Geneva Convention and Human Rights Laws, or, someone who has experienced the power of unrestrained authority over a objectified prisoner, treated as less than human, with no rights. Once one has treated another human as an object, it is easier to do it again. We are all capable of training; some resist, but some succumb.

The Lady Speaks reiterates what's becoming a theme this week: that all people can be made into torturers. Again, the tools are: dehumanisation, racism, othering, willingness to exclude the victim from the protection under a moral code (can anyone say "unlawful combatant"?), gradual escalation, and a power differential between perp and victim.

Despite the fact that these contributors have been known for some time, the policy makers are not only neglecting to address the cultural and situational factors that could promote detainee abuse, but are actively fostering them. Lasting News has a pretty significant post called US Army Bans Geneva Convention from its Manuals. From the article

"The overall thinking," said the participant familiar with the defense debate, "is that they need the flexibility to apply cruel techniques if military necessity requires it."

UPDATES: A few follow-ups from around the blogroll.

Blogroll psychologist Dr James says

As I've mentioned elsewhere [ed: see here] this is precisely the sort of distal influence that makes atrocities such as torture more likely.

The Nether-World and Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying also give their perspective.

On vicarious trauma

In the coming month, you will be reading, thinking, and writing about the most horrific thing that human experience has to offer. There is no way to do this without being affected by it. The effects can be anything from melancholy to a complete emotional/spiritual crisis. The effects can also be very positive. However, because of the potential negatives, I would like to spend some time acquainting you with the signs of vicarious trauma, and how to cope with it.

Vicarious trauma is a natural consequence of empathising with another person who has experienced a traumatic event. It is the cumulative transformation in yourself as a result of that contact. It can be compounded by the stress resulting from wanting to help or prevent the suffering of the other person, and being unable to.

Psychological effects include incredible rage, frustration, despair, guilt, depression, numbness, feeling disconnected from 'everyday life', and feeling drained and exhausted. The symptoms can also be physical, spiritual, and cognitive. Some ways it can manifest include difficulties sleeping, physical weakness, nightmares, impaired concentration, over-drinking, and questioning religion or spiritual beliefs.

The ABCs of addressing vicarious trauma are as follows.

(A) Be Aware of your own needs, limits, emotions and resources. Listen to your bodies, your intuition and your feelings.

(B) Maintain a Balance between activities. It's okay to say "no". You might feel obliged to "do more", but a burnt-out activist is no use to anyone, least of all yourselves.

(C) Connect yourselves to your friends, family, and one another. Communicate when you are angry/in pain, and acknowledge to yourselves that it's real and normal. Leave comments of encouragement on each others' blogs to offset the isolation and to validate one other.

You can think of yourselves as a bank account. Every time your write, read, or think on torture, you are making a withdrawal from your bank. It is a beautiful gift to give, but if you don't make regular deposits, you will become overdrawn:

  • Take time out to do the things that make you feel energised. Eat well, renew your spiritual beliefs, spend time with your pets, talk to your friends and loved ones.
  • Control the amount of writing/reading you do per day.
  • First mourn, then act for change.

Further reading:

"I tore myself away from the safe comfort of certainties through my love for truth; and the truth rewarded me"
-- Simone de Beauvoir, All Said and Done.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

On responsibility

First, some activities to pencil in your diaries. First Presbyterian Church of LaGrange, Chicago, is continuing their forum tomorrow. You can find more details here. There is a teach-in in the afternoon on 7 June at the CCR Conference Room, New York. You can get details here. You'll need to RSVP to if you want to attend.

A special welcome goes to Dr James Benjamin, Assistant Professor in Psychology and researcher on the psychology of torture and genocide. A sound understanding of a problem is a prerequisite to solving it, and we are lucky to have him blogging on this topic this coming month.

James' post on 29 July 2005 discusses research he is doing on torture in the Greek military dictatorship during the late 60s, early 70s. Notable was the following quote, reiterating the point about torturers not necessarily psychopathic:

Most notably, both case studies help to put to rest the myth that
torturers are psychopathic monsters. If anything, potential torturers
are strikingly average, and from Haritos-Fatouros' work it appears
that there is typically an effort by the governments sponsoring
torture to screen out people who are psychologically disturbed.

If the torturers themselves are not the problem, who, or what, is? The quote continues

We also learn a good deal about how potential torturers are trained, and just how extensive the training is. It turns out that there has to be rather strong institutional support for torture in order for it to occur as a general rule of thumb.

James' introductory post here points to a three part series on torture and genocide, which helps illuminate what these institutional supports are.

The West has a strong culture of individual responsibility, but this should not mean that we are satisfied when only guards and those who did the physical deeds are punished. The chain of command has a duty of care towards their soldiers, and they should never take advantage of that and manipulate them psychologically into doing horrific things. If anything, this is a worse crime than that committed by the guards, made all the worse when those responsible then make their subordinates take all of the blame.

In turn, we have a greater responsibility, which is to ensure that the policies and laws of our govts do not foster the kind of environment in which these crimes can take place. And further, if they do occur, we have a responsibility to our men and women in uniform to hold those who are truly responsible to account.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Happy 100!

Bloggers Against Torture has just crossed the 100 bloggers mark, with the lucky no. 100 going to Tina Wall's blog Youthful. Many thanks are due to those first 10 who joined, with special thanks to Phillybits, who has been working very hard behind the scenes promoting the alliance. When we hit 1000 blogs, we'll have a link to the first 100 ;-)

Cyberotter from No Hat Tip has a nice post up about Torture Awareness Month (also on Daily Kos).

Anything They Say has their take on retired Navy general counsel, Alberto Mora's op-ed on Torture. It is a valuable piece for demonstrating that one can both support the war and oppose the use of torture.

The Nether-World has a post up about the European govt's knowledge of rendition flights through their airspace. There is evidence that the UK is turning a blind eye to this, and even allowing the flights to land on their territory. We are all being turned into accomplices.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Start of Torture Awareness Month

Good morning (USA time) everyone, and welcome to the first day of Torture Awareness Month. First, some activities.

According to the calendar, today Torture: Signs of Despair -- Signs of Hope opens in Washington DC at the Martin Luther Kin Jr Library. Today is also the beginning of the International 24 hour fast which you can join here.

Tomorrow starts the two-day forum in Chicago at the First Presbyterian Church of LaGrange. You can find out more here.

Tomorrow night CCR New York are hosting the forum Torture from New Orleans 1973 to Guantanamo 2006. You can find out more here.

If you know of any other activities, why not add them to The Torture Awareness Map (created by Lasting News) or leave a message in the comments.

As you will all be very busy with Torture Awareness Month activities today, I thought I'd recommend something easy: a short video to watch. It's called Mohamed Abbass - A Missing Australian from SBS Dateline.

Abbass was abducted, probably by the Egyptian government, in 1999. The doco follows the heart-wrenching story of his wife's and daughter's efforts to secure his release, which have unfortunately been unsuccessful to date. Sadly, it is not an unusual story for Egypt. What is unusual is how his story overlaps with that of another person; someone detained under quite different circumstances.

"We are very strong, we have a very good connection everywhere around the world, we can do whatever we want to do."

These are not the words you want to be hearing from the kinds of men running secret prisons in Egypt. Unfortunately, a recent policy has emboldening an oppressive regime and helped justify their use of extra-judicial means. It has also made saving Abbass just that little bit more difficult.

You can find a streaming video and transcript of Mohammed Abbass here. Those using mplayer can save the video to their HDs with:
mplayer "rtsp://,554,7070" -dumpstream -dumpfile abbass.rm
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