Monday, July 31, 2006

Evil and Good

We as individuals have the potential for both Evil and Good. Sometimes the lines drawn between them become blurred and this is when we err and go down the path of Evil. The is a Jewish principle that a person does not act in Evil other than in folly. In that time when out lines are blurred and our mind is overcome with folly that we degrade our nature as humans. We forget the crucible that we hold ourselves to. We do things that we otherwise would make us shudder, for we have lied to ourselves in folly and the wrong is now right. Dark becomes light.

Take a look at the box office of late. The silver screen is dominated with death, horror, and even torture. The movie "Hostel" is the pinnacle of this era in Hollywood. We question how a person can commit such an act as torture, yet how many people packed the movie theaters to be entertained by a movie which is about other people getting off on watching a person tortured to death in most horrid ways?

No law against torture will get to the root in our humanity that lets it exist. Until we as humans no longer consider death a form of entertainment, the ugly face of torture will always be a part of our societies.

Cross posted on The Heretical Jew

Shhh, they're sleeping...

Welcome Crooks and Liars visitors. The Blogathon participants are all off taking a well deserved nap, but sponsorship will remain open for two more days if you would still like to pledge. Funds go to Amnesty International USA to help fight against Coalition-sponsored torture and prisoner abuse.

I'm sneaking a quick look from work right now and it looks like they've done a fantastic job. I look forward to reading through it all properly when I get back.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Congrats! We Did It!

Well, we did it! We didn't just do it either – we did it with style and finesse, managing a whopping 51 posts. Yes, we're Just. That. Cool. Next year we might have to do it left-handed, with both eyes shut and one arm tied behind our backs - you know, to make it interesting.

Taking part in this Blogathon, apart from being loads of fun, has also been really educational about what is one of the most important issues in the world today, which was one of the two main goals of the project. We've had discussions on the psychology of torture, we've had expert analysis of the politics and practicalities of torture, we've had shocking exposes, we've had pathetic name-calling, words of wisdom, poetry...the lot. We've even gone cool is that?

Thank you so much to everyone who volunteered their time - (in no particular order) Mash, Robbie, Ingrid, Per, Marcella, Bodda, Heretical Jew, Chuck,'ve all been fantastic. Thanks also to our wonderful monitor, Barbara.

Of course, our second main goal was to raise money for Amnesty International USA, and so far we have officially raised an amazing $1157, all of which will go directly Amnesty USA.

Thank you so much to all our sponsors - you have done a good deed by helping us out, and it is hugely appreciated.

Don't forget that we can still get sponsors up to 48 hours after the Blogathon finishes, so keep pestering everyone you know. My advice is to poke them with a stick.

OK, well I think we did elendil proud :)

Thanks again everyone for helping out,

and now...I'm Off To Bed and I don't plan on waking till the Blogathon 2007.


not so random links

Two years ago the US military invited Mr Mujahid, a former Afghan police commander accused of plotting against the United States, to prove his innocence before a special military tribunal. As was his right, Mr Mujahid called four witnesses from Afghanistan.

But months later the tribunal president returned with bad news: the witnesses could not be found. Mr Mujahid's hopes sank and he was returned to the wire-mesh cell where he remains today.

The Guardian searched for Mr Mujahid's witnesses and found them within three days. One was working for President Hamid Karzai. Another was teaching at a leading American college. The third was living in Kabul. The fourth, it turned out, was dead. Each witness said he had never been approached by the Americans to testify in Mr Mujahid's hearing.

The case illustrates the egregious flaws that have discredited Guantánamo-style justice and which led the US supreme court to declare such trials illegal.

read the complete article

Moazzam Beg, 35, from Sparkbrook, Birmingham, was arrested in Pakistan last February on suspicion of links with the Taleban regime or the al-Qaeda terrorist network. Here is a talk by him on his gitmo experience and opinion on torture.

Eric Saar, a masters student, along with Viveca Novak, a Washington correspondent for Time magazine, wrote a book about Saar's experience in guantanamo bay prisons as a Arabic linguis and intelligence analyst of US army.

"Within the course of six months in 2003, I went from being an eager volunteer - happy to use my skills to contribute to the fight against terrorism - to believing the camp represented a moral and strategic failure."


i wanted to change the world but found her problems too big to handle.
then i focused on changing my society; that too was too mammoth a task for the poor me.
finally i resorted to changing myself, and this itself, i realise, isnt childs play!!

[cross posted at scattered words]

If We Shouldn't Torture What Should We Do Instead?

The last line of one of the other blogathon posts is: Violence is the last resort of the incompetent.

Since there is an absolute need to gather intelligence about potential future attacks so we have at least a shot at preventing more loss of innocent life, what option do we have besides torture?

The good news is that we aren't starting from scratch.

The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin: Criminal confessions: overcoming the challenges - interview and interrogation techniques discusses many of the legitimate concerns critics have about how confessions are obtained. This line is key:

If the investigative hunch or the supposition does not align with known facts, investigators always should follow the facts.
This article shows that with the proper training, many of the abuses and subsequent false confessions can be avoided, benefiting not only the suspect, but justice itself. But facts must always trump unproven fears. We must remember that coerced confessions are not the same as proven facts.

Washington Post: FBI Agents Allege Abuse of Detainees at Guantanamo Bay

The documents also make it clear that some personnel at Guantanamo Bay believed they were relying on authority from senior officials in Washington to conduct aggressive interrogations. One FBI agent wrote a memo referring to a presidential order that approved interrogation methods "beyond the bounds of standard FBI practice," although White House and FBI officials said yesterday that such an order does not exist.


An overall theme of the documents is a chasm between the interrogation techniques followed by the FBI and the more aggressive tactics used by some military interrogators. "We know what's permissible for FBI agents but are less sure what is permissible for military interrogators," one FBI official said in a lengthy e-mail on May 22, 2004. In another e-mail, dated Dec. 5, 2003, an agent complained about military tactics, including the alleged use of FBI impersonators. "These tactics have produced no intelligence of a threat neutralization nature to date and . . . have destroyed any chance of prosecuting this detainee," the agent wrote. "If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, DOD interrogators will be not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done [by] the 'FBI' interrogators."

This article shows that there were established interrogation practices that didn't destroy any chance of prosecution. Rather than viewing these established techniques as too soft, we need to understand the immediate and long-term benefits of treating detainees ethically. The act of attempting to obscure the identity of the interrogators shows that those involved in the pretense knew their actions were unethical and that outside, neutral observers would agree.

They either don't know or don't care that it's a national security benefit to treat all suspects and detainees ethically.

The national security problems that existed before 9/11 weren't problems related to interrogation techniques. Because of that, no harsh interrogation technique will solve the problems that did exist before 9/11 and which needed to be corrected. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that only those trained in proper interrogation techniques should control interrogations and that prison guards should be given only the duty of guarding the prisoners.

To get better at physical and psychological torture is to get worse at protecting national security.

Each approved action should be made based on the knowledge that it will be applied to the guilty and the innocent and that all actions will eventually come to light.

Along with diligently attempting to stop violence in the planning stage, we need to work on prevention so fewer recruits will join with those who are dedicated to violence. That means dealing with complex issues like poverty and bigotry. And not just by so-called foreigners. We forget about domestic terrorism and violent crime at our own peril.

What if detainees, including all US prison inmates, were treated so humanely that they realized the anti-US propaganda had to be made up of nothing but lies?

We can win by continuously being dedicated defenders of human rights while taking all threats (internal and external to our country) seriously. Thanks to our system of checks and balances, we have a chance of legally and ethically removing those in power who don't respect the value of human life after birth.


Torture FAQ

What is torture?

"Torture is any act by which severe pain, whether physical or psychological, is intentionally inflicted on a person as a means of intimidation, deterrence, revenge, punishment, or information gathering. It can be used as an interrogation tactic to extract confessions.

"Torture is almost universally considered to be an extreme violation of human rights, as stated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Signatories of the Third Geneva Convention and Fourth Geneva Convention agree not to torture protected persons (enemy civilians and POWs) in armed conflicts, and signatories of the UN Convention Against Torture agree not to intentionally inflict severe pain or suffering on anyone, to obtain information or a confession, to punish them, or to coerce them or a third person. (Though, Amnesty International estimates that around two out of three countries do not consistently abide by the spirit of such treaties.)”

What are the torture techniques?

There are innumerable ways to torutre someone, most notable of which can be:
- Solitary confinement
- Electric shock
- Sexual (e.g. Rape) or porno torture
- Extreme physcial abuse like burning, beating etc
- Forced witnessing or participation of the torture of others
- Depriving food and drink
- Subjecting to abuse by ferocious trained dogs or other animals
- Psychological and psychiatric torture

Effects of torture.

The consequences of torture are multidimensional and interconnected; no part of the survivor's life is untouched. Physical sufferings may diminish over time, but the psychological burn is deep rooted and the torture victim has to live on with it for the rest of his/her life. Psychological effects include, but ar not limited to: nightmares, flashbacks, fear and suspicion of others, esp. law enforcing authorities.

It also becomes very difficult for the survivor to blend back into his family and the society, esp. when family, friends and the people around look at them differently. At times even getting a job might be difficult. All these further distances the survivor with the world around him.

To survive torture and to live with its effects is a triumph of the human will-- the very thing torture is aimed to destroy. This must be acknowledged and appreciated.

So, what can i do?

The United States has trained, funded, and otherwise supported governments that engage in torture (for example, Indonesia, Turkey, Guatemala, Israel, Columbia, China, etc...).

As a start, you can ask your representatives in Congress to:

- Declare public support for the Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers Act of 1997 (S 1067) to prohibit military assistance and arms transfers to governments which do not adequately protect human rights or are engaged in acts of armed aggression.

- Declare public support for the Human Rights Information Act (S 1220 and HR 2635) which would declassify U.S. documents dealing with human rights abuses around the globe.

Further, you can also support organizations dedicated to the eradication of torture around the world, by all possible means, financially, morally and by being involved in person.

[1] wikipedia

[cross posted at scattered words]

Psychology and U.S. psychologists in torture and war in the Middle East

In Tyrannis

From wall to wall - four paces
from door to window - six and a half,
but the windows much to high
and much to0 far from my pallet,
to see the least
just grey sky.
Maybe, it's seven -
they took my watch
and all my clothes -
and put me in prison wear.

I do not know what they want,
why all this asking,
these never ending interrogations.
I don't know anyhow what's it about.
I do not know what they want...
It can't be more than a few hours,
when they fetched me tonight
and brought me here -
at gun point -
the way you catch a murderer.

I stopped crying
and my hands do hurt,
a I poured out this soup
and smashed the bowl.
They cut my hair
and beat my one by one,
because I knew nothing to say;
they took my blanket -
it's freezing cold at night.

Today I ate their grub,
kohlrabi and mouldy bred,
After this morning's interrogation
I found my window dark -
not to distinguish day from night;
no sound will reach me through these walls -
my breath is all I hear.
Around the naked bulb above
a fly is buzzing

Steps, I can sometimes hear, outside,
when they come to get me,
to put me in front of a microphone
and ask me a thousand times the very same -
and bring me back, into my cell.
And then, the steps will go away
and be back after hours -
or maybe just after minutes
and all starts again...

Then they blindfold my eyes
and lead me across the corridor
to listen to an audio tape.
I cannot distinguish my voice
from theirs, not anymore...
I've lost all feeling for time.
What a bad luck that fly had
to get into this cell with me

And they stepped on my glasses
and laughed out loud and loathsomely
When they cut off - with vices -
my wedding ring,
'cause I couldn't strip it off.
I will confess - no matter what
to finally end this agony.
I crave for the soup, now,
and they will bring my blanket
yes, I will simply sign.
yes, I will simply sign

by Reinhard Mey, German Singer-Songwriter

Please call me by my true name

by Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not say that I will depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch
to be a tiny bird, with wings still so fragile
learning to sing in my new nest
to be a caterpillar in the heart of flower
to be a jewel hiding itself in stone

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time to eat the

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear water of the pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who,
approaching in silence, feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the 12 year old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to my people,
dying slowly in a forced labour camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills up the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

Amnesty International USA Critical of U.S. Human Rights Record

While Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is worried about the criminalization of acts of torture carried out by members of the Bush administration, Amnesty International USA's Senior Deputy Executive Director Curt Goering took the United States to task over its human rights record. In his own words:
"How many times does the United States need to hear that it is promoting some of the most shameful practices in the world today? How many times does the
U.S. government need to be reminded how far its human rights practices have
strayed from international norms? It now must adopt the Committee's sensible
recommendations post-haste, and finally begin to restore its commitment to respect human rights."

Since the "War on Terror" began over four years ago, the United States has appeared in front of the UN Human Rights Committee twice --once after September 11, 2001 and on July 17-18, 2006. At this past meeting, the Committee expressed their concern over their practices in dealing with detainees as well as their incorrect interpretation of the Geneva Convention in relation to detainees held outside the United States. What has the Bush administration done? They're busy trying to find a legal way to circumvent the Geneva Convention so they can continue to commit crimes against humanity in the name of protecting our freedoms.

The UN Human Rights Committee expressed concerns over a wide range of U.S. practices, including the following:
"...secret and incommunicado detentions, the use of interrogation methods that violate the prohibition on torture and on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the policies of "rendition", police brutality, the shackling of pregnant inmates during labor and delivery, and the use of electro-shock weapons such as TASERs."

It's organizations like Amnesty International USA that need your support because they are committed to protect human rights. Without them, Human Rights Watch, or OneWorld United States, the Bush administration would be committing these acts without the world suspecting anything.

We must commit to standing up against these atrocities in our country's name. Our elected officials have failed us. Not only do they rubber-stamp everything the Bush administration and the Republican-led Congress enacts, but they lack the courage --and possibly their moral compass-- to speak out when they clearly know the difference between what is right and wrong.

You Know The United States Is In Deep Trouble...

...when China is also reprimanded by organizations like Amnesty International for their human rights record but responds by making positive changes.

What has China done? First, they overhauled their police regulations in order to protect the rights of criminal suspects. These new guidelines make clear whether or not officials are committing acts of torture when extracting a confession. In the past, the rules were so vague that it was nearly impossible to determine whether or not an investigation was warranted.

Second, China has made all death penalty appeals to open hearings in the Supreme People’s Court and reduced the minimum age for executions to 18. This will reduce the number of executions in China. Of the 2,184 executions carried out last year, China performed at least 1,770 of them.

Unless things change, the day will come when China tells us how to eliminate the use of torture, something unimaginable just six years ago. Shame on us as a country to allow this to happen.

You can read all about these changes by clicking here.

Eyes wide shut

Like most Harvard business school graduate, my life was focused on making my first million by 30, and having everything that came with it. Everything i did was entered around that... flying up the corporate ladder... making the right contact. Life had always been too busy for me to think anything outside my job and myself. Once in a while, news of AIDS in Africa or hunger in Asia caught my eyes, but the remote control was quick in bringing me back to my diet of 'sex and the city', and 'who wants to be a millionaire?'

life was speeding away without glitches, Until i met Stella at a party one evening. I must admit, she was neither an eye catching beauty nor a sexy blonde. Probably, We wouldn't even have had met, were it not for my clumsy hands dropping a wine glass. She was standing close by and spontaneously joined in to help me clean up.

In six months, we came a long way as friends. She was very different from other women i had known so far. To me she was a mystery, always unpredictable, and very unconventional. Usual girl talk of who did what or i want to be this and i want to be that wasn't her soup. She storied about her life in Kenya, where she spent three teenage years. She would talk about the friendly people, their simple living and their humble aspirations in life. It was then that i first realized there exists a world outside my knowledge. That was also the first time, i noticed that not everything is as nice as here... suffering, disaster, war... such words exist beyond the realm of dictionary.

It was her who taught me to think. To question myself, to ponder over life. 'Is life all about making money, owning the best house, and driving the best car? Is it about having the most beautiful wife, and having famous ppl as friends? Is reaching newer heights all that matter?' she once asked. 'Or is life about being content? Having that feeling of goodness after feeding a hungry stomach or helping a needy hand? Knowing you have helped improve someone's life?'.

Since then my life has changed dramatically, and i have come a long way. Not towards that coveted dream of making the million, and owning the mansion... but a towards a new dream. The true American dream of peace, prosperity and happiness for all.

'Why didn't i think of this earlier? Why didn't the cries ever touch my heart?' I questioned myself. 'Well its because someone didn't want you to. Someone wanted to stop thinking, stop asking questions. Someone wanted you to be too engrossed in life to ever think about it, to ever have time to appreciate it', answered my mind.

Will you too continue to live in defiance, like i once did? Or start thinking and be the true self you are born to be? The choice is yours!

[cross posted at scattered words]

Loose Change

You have to wonder, is all this arguing and reasoning of the (il)legality of torture really about torture? If, by all accounts, torture is the least effective method of extracting evidence..than what is really the purpose of it?
See HERE the 'reason' why it all started..the excuse..

the act of torture is horrendous.. I do believe that we also need to look at the big picture of intent. One difficult to imagine for some, but for those who have been noticing patterns, reporting by news media, blogs on the many many encroachments on true freedomes and constitional rights, and most importantly, the raison d'etre of Bush's foreign policy.. it comes as no surprise.
Think think think for yourself..

The Headlines are Enough to Make You Puke

Well, here I am, sitting in my garden on a lovely summer morning in Denmark and why should I give a flying fart about torture?

Well, first off, just reading the titles of the last ten posts on this blog was enough to turn my stomach to where I felt the need to visit the toilet in a reverse position to the normal when one needs to exclude wastes from the body -- that is I was about to puke.

Just the titles of the posts was enough to let me know that there are people out there who understand the degrading sickeness of state-sponsered torture.

Bascially torture is terror. Its only real use is to terrorize the body public. Torture, except for the rogue psychopath, exists, takes place, happens, only through the political will of whatever regime which decides to implement it.

Torture cannot keep you safe, information gained through torture is useless -- except to gain names of other people to put through the meat grinder.

The only "good" thing about torture is that, perhaps, it gives those who implement and order its use a feeling of potency, that is to say they get their rocks off -- something a little blue pill could do more efficiently.

Detainee 546

Detainee 546 at Guantanamo Bay is an Afghan farmer named Muhibullah. He was picked up by Afghan warlords and likely sold to the American forces in Afghanistan. Muhibullah is a Pashtu speaking farmer who is poor and illiterate. He is believed to be about 35 years old, although he is not really sure how old he is.

After being picked up by Afghan warlords he was put in prison and tortured. He was then handed over to the Americans and subsequently ended up at Guantanamo Bay. He does not allege that he was tortured in Guantanamo Bay. He was taken by the Afghan warlords because they were rounding up all Pashtu speaking people they could find to later sell to the Americans.

To give you an idea of the caliber of detainees the Bush Administration is holding at Guantanamo Bay, I will list for you the charges against him from his appearance, with the assistance of an interpreter, at the Combatant Status Review Tribunal [p. 64]:

  • He is accused of being a night security guard between 1998 and 1999 for Syed Sha Aga, a Taliban commander in Kabul.

  • He is accused of being a local tribal mediator for water disputes between November 2000 and February 2001, and between September 2001 and November 2001. He is not accused of being a fighter during this time.

  • He is accused of attending a dinner with Kamal, a local Northern Alliance Commander under warlord Ismail Khan, the legendary Mujahideen commander.

  • He is accused of acquiring an AK-47 from a man named Abdul Ghafar.

  • He is accused of surrendering to the Northern Alliance in November 2001.

He was also earlier accused of being the Acting Governor of Shibarghan Province. The New York Times gives us a flavor of how his defense was handled:

At one review hearing last year, an Afghan referred to by the single name Muhibullah denied accusations that he was either the former Taliban governor of Shibarghan Province or had worked for the governor. The solution to his case should have been simple, Mr. Muhibullah suggested to the three American officers reviewing his case: They should contact the Shibarghan governor and ask him.

But the presiding Marine Corps colonel said it was really up to the detainee to try to contact the governor. Assuming that the annual review board denied his petition for freedom, noted the officer, whose name was censored from the document, Mr. Muhibullah would have a year to do so.

"How do I find the governor of Shibarghan or anybody?" the detainee asked.

"Write to them," the presiding officer responded. "We know that it is difficult but you need to do your best."

"I appreciate your suggestion, but it is not that easy," Mr. Muhibullah said.

The rest of his Tribunal appearance also followed a similar script.

Muhibullah admitted to working as a night security guard in 1998 and 1999. In his defense he stated that he was not fighting anyone and most villagers had to perform these duties for the Government. He also pointed out the obvious fact that at the time Afghanistan was not at war with the United States.

He admitted to being a local dispute mediator in the village and again pointed out the obvious fact that he was not a combatant. In fact, at the time he was picked up he was not aware who was fighting whom - he did not know if the Americans were fighting the Northern Alliance or the Taliban.

He admitted to attending a dinner at Kamal's house. He said he had gone to Kamal's house at his relatives' advice to seek assistance in safely getting back to his village. Instead, Kamal took all his money and belongings and threw him in jail the next morning. He was later tortured and then finally handed over to the Americans. He pointed out the obvious fact that he is accused of having dinner with his captor and having dinner with an American ally does not seem particularly sinister.

He claimed to not know anyone named Abdul Ghafar and categorically denied receiving an AK-47 from a man he does not know. Here is the exchange between Muhibullah and the Tribunal President [p. 67]:

4. The Detainee acquired a rifle from a Mujahideen fighter, Abdul Ghafar.

Muhibullah: I do not know this person. I do not know Abdul Ghafar. I do not know if he is working with the Americans or against the American Government. I did not have any rifle or any type of weapon from this person. If the Tribunal can explain this question to me in detail - who is this person, where or when - then I might know something. But with that point, I totally disagree because I cannot remember that person.

Tribunal President: That is fine. We have no further evidence.

Finally, Muhibullah explained that he had not surrendered to anyone. Surrendering suggests that he was fighting, and no one had accused him of being a fighter. He also pointed out that he, even by the American military's version of events, had gone to Kamal's house and had dinner with him. Kamal took him prisoner the next morning against his wishes. He explained that that does not amount to surrender.

After hearing Muhibullah's defense, the Tribunal decided that Muhibullah should not be released from Guantanamo Bay. Ultimately the tribunal decided that there was more reason to hold him than to release him. The factors that favored continued detention, according to the Tribunal, were [p. 82]:

  • His association with the Taliban:

    • He is alleged to have surrendered to the forces of Ismail Khan.

    • He was a night watchman in 1998 and 1999.

  • Training:

    • He received AK-47 and RPG training from his uncle. [Not mentioned at his hearing.]

  • Intent:

    • He admitted to carrying an AK-47 while on duty as a night watchman.

I doubt if any respectable legal system in the world would find grounds to hold this man. However, the Bush Administration and its kangaroo courts at Guantanamo Bay have found cause to hold this poor man.

One has to wonder, if this is the level of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, how successful the Bush Administration has been in actually apprehending real al Qaeda terrorists.

[Cross posted at Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying]

It Pisses Me Off

It really pisses me me off when I hear or read speculation as to when it would be okay to use torture.

Perhaps I should call it the "Twenty-four Hours" syndome, because it always goes like this, "If Britney Spears ran out of toilet paper and we knew that the only way to get fresh supplies of ass wipe was..."

I jest of course, but I jest not about the ugliness of torture.

Torture is intended to destroy human beings, that is, that which makes us human. Every time a human being id tortured (and it is happening right now as I type these words) our common humanity is deminished.

Torture is terror at ground zero.

Torture is the abuse of a human you have under your control.

Can I say it any clearer?

An airplane skywriter, would that help?

The Suffering Must Not Be Anonymous

We are blogging against torture. Why? Because torture is barbaric and cruel, and has no place in a modern, civilised society.

I thought it was important to put some names to the agony, to make it a little bit personal, to help us understand more exactly what it is we are fighting against.

As a previous Blogathon post has noted, it is only be dehumanising the victims are we able to allow the practice to go on. It is therefore of critical importance that we do not allow this to happen. We must not let the suffering of people become mere stats on a chart.

Carlos Mauricio used to be a professor in El Salvador, before he was abducted and tortured by the deaths squads 22 years ago. He was hidden from the ICRC, taken “underground to a clandestine torture chambers”, where he suffered “two broken ribs from one of the beatings, and a damaged eye”.

Olga Talamante was a 24 year-old student when she was kidnapped in Argentina during martial law. “In my secret torture chamber — later it was confirmed to have been within the walls of the local police station — a slight turn of my head could bring on a new barrage of insults and fists...They took me to another room. I sensed several new people. I heard men's voices. They untied my hands and feet. They ordered me to take my clothes off. I hesitated, and they made it clear that it was not a request but a demand. Now naked except for the tape over my eyes, I felt hands sit me down on a bed and then push me back, spreading my arms and legs, tying them at each corner. If I know where I am, I can survive? The thought was less convincing. Electric currents were applied to the most sensitive parts of my body. All I could do was scream”.

Tito Tricot is a torture survivor in Chile. “No one can really understand what being tortured means until that fateful moment when you find yourself naked, blindfolded and tied up at the mercy of your captors. Your entire life is confined to that fragile moment when darkness becomes your enemy; yet at the same time the dark is your only ally, a refuge from madness. There is neither past nor future, only the present of screams, fury and impotence when you find yourself defenceless at the mercy of the torturer's rage and coldness. You never know when he is going to hit, shout, kick, hang, electrocute or kill you...The horror of the torture chamber will never go away, the military did not only torture individuals, but also the very soul of our nation. They did not only torture somebody for a few hours or a few days, they destroyed their life forever.”

The terrible thing about torture is that it sticks with you. It doesn't just happen and then it's over – people's lives are ruined by it.

Maher Arar was detained at JFK Airport in 2002. He was jailed, and then secretly transported to Syria, where he was held for a year without charge or trial in an underground cell, where he was tortured.

“Well, the false confession was, frankly, at the beginning. They wanted me to say that I’ve been to Afghanistan, which I ended up saying anyway. But what I’m referring to here, even by -- after ten months of that psychological torture, if they asked me to sign another false confession, and they told me, “Listen, if you sign this, we will take you to a different place where you could live as a human being,” I would have signed anything...You know, I’m completely a different person. I still have fears. I don't take the plane anymore. I don't fly. I lost confidence in myself. I feel overwhelmed. My -- there is some kind of emotional distancing between me and my kids and my family. They ruined my life. They ruined my life, and I have not been able to find a job. People try to – you know, some people I know, they try to distance themselves from me. It's -- you know, I don't know how to describe it. I don't think there is any word I could use to describe what I am going through. And I thought when I came back it would take me a month or two months or a year or two years to get back to normal life. It has been two years and four months since I came back to Canada, and there are things that are improved a little bit, but I’m still not the same person, and I’m still suffering psychologically.”

The following is a detailed account of the hideous torture one young woman had to suffer in Bosnia. She was treated afterwards in the United States. This is what the US should be doing in the world – using its power to help people, with compassion and understanding, not committing torture themselves (you will note that in most of the above cases, the US was involved on the side of the torturer).

Fatima is a 44-year-old Bosnian female [.PDF]. She had arrived in the United States with refugee status after living in Germany for eight years with her husband and children. She presented with multiple physical and psychological symptoms. While in Bosnia, she was targeted as a Muslim woman by Muslim soldiers, due to her marriage to a Serbian. Fatima explained that her town had been subjected to several surprise visits by soldiers, and that her neighbours had been taken, beaten, raped and imprisoned for days at a time. Individuals living in mixed marriages, Muslim and Serbian, were targeted repeatedly, she explained. This caused a heightened arousal and fear among those individuals living within her community. One night, Fatima and her husband were awakened by soldiers who ordered them at gun-point to get dressed and follow them. The soldiers separated the couple. She explained that after her abduction, she was plagued with concern for her family’s safety. She was taken to a school gymnasium that had been converted into a temporary camp that housed many other women of varying ages. She was held captive for 20 days, during which time her concern for her family grew. She was given very little food or water and reported being beaten repeatedly. While imprisoned, she witnessed nearly every woman being dragged into areas of the room, and repeatedly raped and beaten by groups of soldiers. She painfully explained that she, too, had been victimised by five to six groups of men repeatedly during her imprisonment.

The effects of violence were heightened as she felt betrayed by her own religious brothers. She stated that she was being punished for the person whom she had fallen in love with. It was very difficult for Fatima to discuss her past trauma. She became overwhelmed with emotion as she described the most horrific violation that she had experienced. One night, a group of soldiers randomly selected her as their victim and began their sexual assault. During this violation, she became aware that something was different about this night. The circumstances of the assault
quickly began to change. The soldiers who were attacking her began to hold her down and a new pain was introduced. As she looked down, the soldiers had begun tattooing and scarring parts of her body. She felt that these soldiers had decided that the pain and humiliation of rape alone would not be enough, and they wanted her to suffer as much indignity as possible by placing a physical reminder of this ordeal on her body. By placing their Muslim names on her body, they scarred and marked her, proving to her community that this could happen to anyone. They continued to beat, rape and tattoo her throughout that night. In the morning, when she looked at her breasts, arms and shoulders, she saw the names of the soldiers who had attacked her, forever embedded in her skin.”

So there you have it. Whenever you hear anyone advocating torture, this is what they mean. Either they don't know anything about torture or they are simply indifferent to human suffering.

[Cross-posted at The Heathlander]

Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror

“This, quite simply, is the most devastating and detailed investigation into a question that has remained a no-no in the current debate on American torture in
George Bush’s war on terror: the role of military physicians, nurses, and other
medical personnel. Dr. Miles writes in a white rage, with great justification–but he lets the facts tell the story.” –Seymour M. Hersh, author of Chain of Command

Random House released a title last month that should find a home on your bookshelf. Steven H. Miles M.D., an expert on medical ethics, human rights and international health care, wrote Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror and just the synopsis on Random House's website made my jaw drop:
The graphic photographs of U.S. military personnel grinning over abused Arab and Muslim prisoners shocked the world community. That the United States was
systematically torturing inmates at prisons run by its military and civilian leaders divided the nation and brought deep shame to many. When Steven H. Miles,
an expert in medical ethics and an advocate for human rights, learned of the
neglect, mistreatment, and torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay,
and elsewhere, one of his first thoughts was: “Where were the prison doctors
while the abuses were taking place?”

In Oath Betrayed, Miles explains the answer to this question. Not only were doctors, nurses, and medics silent while prisoners were abused; physicians and psychologists provided information that helped determine how much and what kind of mistreatment could be delivered to detainees during interrogation. Additionally, these harsh examinations were monitored by health professionals operating under the purview of the U.S. military.

Miles has based this book on meticulous research and a wealth of resources, including unprecedented eyewitness accounts from actual victims of prison abuse, and more than thirty-five thousand pages of documentation acquired through provisions of the Freedom of Information Act: army criminal investigations, FBI notes on debriefings of prisoners, autopsy reports, and prisoners’ medical records. These documents tell a story markedly different from the official version of the truth, revealing involvement at every level of government, from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to the Pentagon’s senior health officials to prison health-care personnel.

Oath Betrayed is not a denunciation of American military policy or of war in general, but of a profound betrayal of traditions that have shaped the medical corps of the United States armed forces and of America’s abdication of its leadership role in international human rights. This book is a vital document that will both open minds and reinvigorate Americans’ understanding of why human rights matter, so that we can reaffirm and fortify the rules for international civil society.

The San Francisco Chronicle published a review in today's edition of its newspaper and here's a sample of what it had to say about a story on a detainee named Dilawar:
"Dilawar was a twenty-two-year-old farmer and taxi driver, whom American soldiers tortured to death over five days at Bagram Collection Point in Afghanistan in December, 2002. When the soldiers put a sandbag over his head, Dilawar complained that he could not breathe. He was then shackled and suspended from his arms for hours, denied water, and beaten so severely that his legs would have been amputated had he survived. When he was beaten with a baton, he would cry 'Allah, Allah', which guards found so amusing that they beat him some more just to hear him cry. During his final interrogation, soldiers told the delirious, injured prisoner that he would get medical attention after the session. Instead, he was returned to a cell and chained to the ceiling. Several hours later, a physician found him dead."

"By then, the interrogators had concluded that Dilawar was innocent and had simply been picked up after driving his new taxi by the wrong place at the wrong time."

If that doesn't make you outraged, this quote should send your blood temperature to the boiling point:
Dilawar was far from alone: Miles notes that Army experts "estimated that 80
percent to 90 percent of arriving Abu Ghraib prisoners either had no intelligence value or were outright innocent."

Don't get mad at the Bush administration. Get even. Click here to read more about Oath Betrayed on Random House's website or order it from Barnes & Noble by clicking here.

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Torture: It's Fashionable in Belarus, Too

"These claims are bizarre...our police always act within the letter of the law. They are under more supervision than ever due to the world attention on our country these days." -- an unnamed Belarus official

The EUobserver posted an article last night about the increasing use of torture methods by Belarus police to obtain confessions from political prisoners. Here’s a familiar laundry list of methods used by them, as stated by Grodno region police investigator Pavel Melko in a letter addresed to the United Nations and Belarus opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich:

"A standing practice of using torture to extract confessions and evidence exists and is developing...[This includes] electric shock, smothering...poisoning by tear gas and neuro-paralytic agents, battery, straining of tendons, piercing of gums by an awl. Some cannot bear the tortures, faint, try to commit suicide. People, tired from tortures, leap out of the windows."

Political prisoners that have been subjected to these and similar treatments include opposition leader Alexander Kazulin, who was incarcerated earlier this month for five and a half years for "hooliganism". Kazulin’s wife gave her account of the May 25, 2006 incident that took place after the fraudulent Belarus elections:

"My husband walked up to the commanding officer smiling and with flowers in hand. But before he started talking, the officer ordered attack. They knocked my husband off his feet, started beating him up, and then dragged him away...then they started beating up the rest of us."

Does this sound like hooliganism to you? I didn’t think so. As for Mr. Melko, his whereabouts cannot be confirmed. According to the report, Melko may have sent his letter after he left Belarus illegally and may be hiding in Canada.

Click here to read the full text of the article.

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

VIII. The price is vulnerability.

In an article in the December 1998 issue of The Progressive, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb reported on the treatment given to a 23-year old Palestinian held on "administrative detention." The prisoner was "cuffed behind a chair 17 hours a day for 120 days . . . [he] had his head covered with a sack, which was often dipped in urine or feces. Guards played loud music right next to his ears and frequently taunted him with threats of physical and sexual violence.

found on CounterPunch.Org
We must withstand. If we open this Pandora's box there will be no end to the evil broth spilling out of it. Torture is not a means of 'information retrieval'. It is not at all reliable. The Cautio Criminalis written by Friedrich von Spee in the turn of the 17th century already rejected torture as a means of interrogation.

Torture is a means of suppression. The War on Terror is a Never-Ending-War, as the definition of a terrorist is very obscure. It may be applied to some like the Red Army Faction who considered car-bombs as a means of political fight, or to a group in open Civil Disobedience. One has to be very careful nowadays to speak of freedom fighters: the Nazis of course would have considered the French 'Resistance' a terrorist group...

If we in the least ease the use of torture, we will end with three certain results:

  1. the war on terror will not end. There will always be people who believe that not all oil belongs to America.

  2. There will always be one more terrorist to be tortured legally: anyone of them might provide the information to prohibit a disaster. And if he doesn't know about the bomb itself he knows someone who knows someone who knows someone...

  3. Why stop with terrorists?

And yes: there is a price for being HUman. The price is vulnerability.


IX. HUman Beings are equal!

"I think it would be a mistake to ascribe moral equivalence to civilians who die as the direct result of malicious terrorist acts," he added, while defending as "self-defence" Israel's military action, which has had "the tragic and unfortunate consequence of civilian deaths."

John Bolton, US-Ambassador to the UN

HUman Beings are equal.

We all are equal. We are not the same though - but our individuality is a very, very common thing on Planet Earth. There are billions and billions of 'I'. Each and everyone striving for happiness.

If you have a religious or spiritual background you will find it very easy to accept that. The famous Sufi Master Shams of Tabriz once when asked who he was replied: 'Another of the many sons of Adam'.

If you lack this background – you've got a lot more acknowledging to do. But if you examine the matter properly you will arrive at the conclusion: No one is more important than anyone else.

They arrive at this planet in the same condition and if left to themselves will die very soon. So HUman Beings are Social Beings. We cannot survive without one another. We owe everything to someone else.

When we grow up and learn we keep taking from our forefathers and we add a teaspoon to it. Nothing more. If you properly examine your personal achievements you will have to concede, that without the others you'd be nothing and nobody. If you seem to be bigger than someone else it's only because you're standing on the shoulder of many.

There's no one more important than you. And you are not more important than anyone else.

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the 'Universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest--a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

Albert Einstein

Breathe that in: Now there's no more room – Do as you will be done.

Past the seeker as he prayed
came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten.
And seeing them...he cried,
“Great God, how is it that
a loving creator can see such things
and yet do nothing about them?”
God said: “I did do something. I made you.”


Debunking The "Ticking Bomb" Argument For Torture

Alan Dershowitz uses the "ticking bomb" scenario to justify torture. Though Dershowitz makes other equally flimsy excuses to justify torture, the so-called "ticking bomb" scenario is the one that has the most emotional appeal. This is also the argument trotted out most by torture apologists.

The "ticking bomb" scenario goes something like this: if a terrorist has planted a bomb (say, nuclear) in the middle of a major American city (say, New York) and you have managed to capture him but he won't tell you where he planted the bomb, what do you do? No, this isn't a question from the movie "Speed", but it is the torture apologists' favorite question. Would you torture the terrorist in the hope that he will tell you where he planted the bomb? Most people, when confronted with this hypothetical scenario, will likely choose torture to extract the information that will save millions of lives. It sounds so simple.

There are plenty of arguments that can be made to debunk this notion. The moral and legal argument is that if you allow torture in one circumstance, then you are liable to slide down a slippery slope that is very dangerous for a law-abiding society. However, I want to make a rather basic argument that is often lost when this emotional scenario is discussed. My argument is rather simple: torture in this circumstance is guaranteed not to work.

I don't say that torture in the "ticking bomb" scenario may not work; I say that it will never work. The reason is simple. If you are positing a scenario where a terrorist has already decided to kill millions of people, why would he cough up information to spoil his plans? Does it really matter how much you torture him? Does he believe that if he gives up the information you, the torturer, will somehow forgive him for trying to kill millions of people? He has a much better incentive to lie. By lying he achieves a two-fer. He not only ensures that the "ticking bomb" will go off killing the millions that he intended (including quite likely himself and his interrogators), he also ensures that the torture will stop (at least temporarily) while the hapless torturer and his cohorts follow the false lead. It's that simple. He has every incentive to lie and no incentive to tell the truth.

While Alan Dershowitz busily tries to reshape his argument, his grand experiment in torture will have killed millions of people. One could then argue that Mr. Dershowitz, by advocating a path that was sure to fail (and thereby denying law enforcement the other more effective alternatives currently at their disposal), would be morally culpable for the deaths of millions. Perhaps, Dershowitz the Torture Apologist, should consider that before he writes another one of his torture tomes.

[Cross posted at Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying]

The Mentality of Torture.

One thing is a certainty regarding torture, and that is the Torturer does not feel that what he/or she is doing is wrong. One can likely break down torture into many different types but the two that come to mind are a) torture in order to extract information from a enemy, and b) torture for revenge.

The torture cases we saw in Iraq seem to fall into the category of revenge. It is similar to a case that occurred in Brooklyn, NY Police Precinct where a African American man was tortured by having a broken broomstick shoved into his rectum. The Police Officer who did it was convicted of the act, but one must ask why he would do such a thing? In fact this Officer was a very highly decorated Cop, and no one would have thought he would have done this. I know this for I worked in the NYPD and met Officers that knew him. In the end it was determined that he was doing steroids to enhance performance. Highly aggressive tendencies go hand in hand with steroid use. This is no excuse for what he did, but when this Officer and some of his fellow Officers were executing a warrant he was "sucker punched" by the twin brother of the man they were looking to arrest. The subsequent brutal assault on the man in the bathroom of the Police Station was a gross act of torture motivated by revenge.

The first type of torture is a far more complex, and not so perverse one on the surface. I say so for this type of torture is often masked by the protection of a state, or its citizens. The torturer aggrandises his actions with patriotism. He weighs the value of one life, and favors the lives of thousands he portends to defend with his acts of torture. The real problem is that he does not merely portend to defend thousands against acts of violence, but actually does in some cases. Where does a person draw the line when you have in detention a person you know has vital information regarding planned military or terrorist actions. According to the Geneva convention you can not do anything but ask for name, rank, and serial number. These lines have been blurred regarding those detained for suspected terrorism. Bush's attempt to classify them as illegal-combatants has in effect taken then out of the umbrella protection of Geneva. Much of that has been reversed by the Supreme Court. I ask you if information that would advert another 9/11 type of terrorist action came from the torture of a detainee is it wrong? I would agree with you that it would be. The ends do not justify the means. However, we can see how those that commit torture can fool them self into thinking that the ends do justify the means. If you torture one man and save a thousand much more compelling can that be. Nonetheless, torture is the desperate act of those who can not get the information they need by other means.

Violence is the last resort of the incompetent. (Vulcan Proverb)

Cross posted on The Heretical Jew

Living In A Post 9/11 World Means Living Outside The Bubble

To this current US administration, living in a post 9/11 world means they get to do whatever they want without worrying about pesky laws or ethics. Forget checks and balances -- that's so 1776. Their vision of this new world is one where they can exact pre-emptive revenge.

Many of the changes in law limiting civil liberties that were made in the name of 9/11 had been sitting just waiting for the right opportunity.

Yes, you read that right. Opportunity.

Most of us only saw the tragedy and mourned for every life lost or changed forever, but a few saw it as a political opportunity to get the consent of the congress and the public before the numbness wore off.

They suddenly had political capital and they couldn't spend it fast enough.

Because of my experience as a rape survivor and my volunteering as a victim advocate, the 9/11 attacks didn't make me suddenly realize people can and will do evil things. I already knew that and I knew too many people in the world, including Americans, didn't need a jihad to give them a reason kill innocent civilians.

That also made me skeptical of those who demanded my blind trust. To me "I'm simply looking out for your best interests" is one of the scariest phrases invented.

Ted Bundy and the Green River killer are just a couple of the men who killed far too many, far too close to where I was when they were on the loose. Two more killers have been in the news this last week. The first man kept pictures of women suspected of being his victims. And here's the second:

Friends Stunned by Colo. Killer's Crimes

Browne said he shot some of his victims and strangled others, in one case with a pair of leather shoelaces. He knocked out one woman with ether, then used an ice pick on her. He put a rag soaked in ant killer over another victim's face and stabbed her nearly 30 times with a screwdriver. Colorado authorities said Browne, 53, claimed to have committed the killings between 1970 and his arrest in 1995. Investigators so far have been able to corroborate Browne's claims in six slayings three in Louisiana, two in Texas and one in Arkansas, Colorado authorities said.


Court papers paint a picture of a predator who loathed women and thought he was justified in killing them because they were cheating on their husbands and boyfriends in many cases, with him. Browne, who has been married six times, said he has been disappointed with women his whole life. "Women are unfaithful, they screw around a lot, they cheat and they are not of the highest moral value," he told investigators. Browne apparently had at least one close female friend in Woods, now 50. Woods said she never saw a violent side in Browne, who lived around the corner from her in the 1980s. Woods said she remembered Browne as funny and caring, but with one strange habit: without warning, he would look deep into her eyes, and declare, "You're my friend."

"He always said it that way. It was so weird," Woods said.

With people like this, I have a hard time saying we Americans are all good and those who share a religion with the 9/11 hijackers are all bad. More importantly, I'd already learned how to live with the constant awareness of my own vulnerability.

Life outside of the bubble might be scary, but we can learn to live there without a constant sense of paranoia. We can learn to have compassion for those who at first glance seem no different than cold-blooded murderers and who seem to have nothing in common with good people like us.

We don't have to react to the shock of what we see outside the bubble with a desire to get those we fear before one of them can get us.

But just think of what would happen to innocent American men if we women started practicing pre-emptive self-defense against any stranger who takes our picture or against any man we know who looks into our eyes and tells us, "You're my friend."


Amnesty International: Hamdan v. Rumsfeld Action Letter Campaign

From the Amnesty International Online Action Center...their latest campaign against torture.

On June 29, the Supreme Court ruled that Common Article 3 of the Geneva
Conventions protected detainees in US custody. This ruling reinstates
fundamental human rights protections that the President sought to set aside by
Executive Order. The coming months will be critical in determining how the Bush
Administration implements the Court’s decision. Urge the government not to gut
these important safeguards through omissions or legislation.

Click here to let President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld know that you're concerned about their proposed legislation to restrict Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.

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I wanted to use this post to highlight a religious-based anti-torture organization called Stop The Torture. Please support them by making a donation, or by posting this flyer in your home, workplace and house of worship.

They even have Honor & Shame pages to highlight who was against and supported torture. The Shame page looks like a Who's Who in the Bush administration. Check out their home page when you get a chance.

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The Dark Prison

According to Human Rights Watch, the Bush Administration has operated a secret prison near Kabul, Afghanistan since 2002. The secret prison is affectionately known as "The Dark Prison". It has served as the drop off point for detainees captured in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East. Detainees are introduced to the art of torture here before being shipped off to other secret CIA torture stations or to Guantanamo Bay. The Dark Prison is the halfway house of the torture world. They practice the kinder gentler version of torture at The Dark Prison, leaving the more esoteric forms of torture to the more permanent CIA black sites.

The authorized kinder gentler torture techniques practiced by the CIA include (in increasing levels of discomfort):

1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.

2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.

3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.

4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.

5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.

6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

These authorized techniques combine with creative freelance techniques to give The Dark Prison its reputation. Human Rights Watch has documented reports from detainees who have been guests there:

The detainees said U.S. interrogators slapped or punched them during interrogations. They described being held in complete darkness for weeks on end, shackled to rings bolted into the walls of their cells, with loud music or other sounds played continuously. Some detainees said they were shackled in a manner that made it impossible to lie down or sleep, with restraints that caused their hands and wrists to swell up or bruise. The detainees said they were deprived of food for days at a time, and given only filthy water to drink.  


It was pitch black no lights on in the rooms for most of the time.... They hung me up. I was allowed a few hours of sleep on the second day, then hung up again, this time for two days. My legs had swollen. My wrists and hands had gone numb.... There was loud music, [Eminem’s] “Slim Shady” and Dr. Dre for 20 days.... [Then] they changed the sounds to horrible ghost laughter and Halloween sounds. [At one point, I was] chained to the rails for a fortnight.... The CIA worked on people, including me, day and night.... Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors, screaming their heads off.

On the upside, no detainee claimed to have been kept at the facility for longer than six weeks. The other benefit of being in The Dark Prison is that it is convenient to the airport:

Most of the detainees said they were arrested in other countries in Asia and the Middle East, and then flown to Afghanistan. Detainees who arrived by airplane said they were driven about five minutes from a landing field to the prison. Afghan guards told some of them that the facility was located near Kabul. Some detainees who were kept at the facility were transferred at various times to and from another secret facility near Kabul. The detainees said they were later transferred to the main U.S. military detention facility near Bagram, where many other Guantánamo detainees say they were initially held.  

The downside of course is that if you are unlucky to be an inmate at The Dark Prison, you are likely at the beginning of a long journey that will be punctuated by torture and more torture at other facilities around the world. You will either be "disappeared" or find yourself in Guantanamo Bay.

There is some speculation that The Dark Prison may have been closed in late 2004 in favor of the better-equipped facility in Bagram, Afghanistan. Nevertheless, this facility remains as another dark spot in the tortured legacy of George W Bush and his Administration.

When the Bush Administration has been relegated to the dustbin of history, we will look back at facilities like The Dark Prison and Abu Ghraib with shame and disgust. We will look back at this time in history as the period when America misplaced its humanity.

[Cross posted at Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying]

Dershowitz's Arguments For The Legalisation of Torture are both Nonsensical and Unnecessary

Professor Alan Dershowitz has always been one of the most prominent defenders of Israel, but more recently he has also become one of the most prominent advocates for the legalisation of torture.

What is the reason for this? Well, his argument goes something like this: torture happens, it always has and it always will. It happens in democracies, it happens in dictatorships, it happens in Iran and it happens in the US. Thus, he says:

“Every democracy, including our own, has employed torture outside of the law.
Throughout the years, police officers have tortured murder and rape suspects
into confessing -- sometimes truthfully, sometimes not truthfully.”
From this, he concludes that the choice is not between torture or no torture, but between whether we want torture to be regulated and happen within the law, or to continue as it is and be outside the law:

“Either police would torture below the radar screen of accountability, or the
judge who issued the warrant would be accountable. Which would be more
consistent with democratic values?”

Now, let’s review his argument: that because torture is inevitable, we should legalise it to at least ensure it is regulated and only happens in extreme, “ticking bomb” cases. There are several flaws in this argument even if we assume its premises to be correct. But first let’s examine the premises themselves:

I share Seth Finkelstein’s position:

“I stand in awe of Dershowitz's focus on legal authorization of torture as the
"real debate". All the moral and practical questions are swept away by his
assumption of inevitability. We are left only to consider how to deal with what,
if any, judicial procedures should surround torture.”
Dershowitz is making a huge assumption here – that torture goes on and will always go on, and cannot be stopped. He doesn’t justify this assumption at all, which is amazing since it underpins his entire argument. Without it, he has no case. I reject the assumption that we will never be rid of torture. Imagine if everyone had thought like this about slavery in America. Imagine an Alan Dershowitz pointing to all previous societies, to Ancient Egypt and Rome and the British Empire, and saying ‘look, we’ve always had slaves, and we always will do, so let’s atleast make the best of it’. That fact is that, by mass popular pressure, slavery was overthrown. You get rid of brutality and injustice by fighting for what’s right, not by giving in to resignation.

So Dershowitz is wrong to limit the debate to illegal or legal torture. The fact is that neither is consistent with “democratic values”. What is consistent with those values is a complete abolition of torture, and it is this that we must continue to strive for.

But let’s, for a second, ignore that grave flaw in his premises. What practical solution does Dershowitz offer for legalising and regulating torture?

“Under my proposal, no torture would be permitted without a "torture warrant" being issued by a judge.”

This “warrant” would “be based on the absolute need to obtain immediate information in order to save lives coupled with probable cause that the suspect had such information and is unwilling to reveal it.” In other words, a warrant would be issued in a “ticking bomb” scenario. What would the warrant authorise? It would allow torture, limited to “nonlethal means, such as sterile needles, being inserted beneath the nails to cause excruciating pain without endangering life” (I’m curling up at the thought).

The evidence extracted from this “excruciating” torture would not be permissible as evidence in court, but could be used to save lives.

So here already Dershowitz implicitly concedes the well-known fact that, using torture, it is possible to get someone to admit anything.

There are many flaws in this proposal. Firstly, let’s take a look at the “ticking bomb” scenario described by Dershowitz more explicitly:
“To prove that it would not, consider a situation in which a kidnapped child had
been buried in a box with two hours of oxygen. The kidnapper refuses to disclose
its location. Should we not consider torture in that situation?”
There is a problem with this scenario, often used as a justification for torture, is that it cannot be considered in isolation like that. The argument goes that the utilitarian thing to do would be to torture the kidnapper to save the child. In literal “ticking bomb” scenarios, the utilitarian case appears to be stronger – i.e. it would be morally correct to torture one terrorist to save the lives of thousands of people.

In fact, the opposite is true. Once you start allowing torture in certain circumstances – in this case for “ticking bomb” scenarios – what you are doing is making torture acceptable. Gradually, the situations in which torture is permissible will get wider and wider, and the use of torture will get more frequent. Sure, you will start with ‘torture is only acceptable if a terrorist admits he knows where the bomb is, but won’t tell you’. This then expands to include, ‘torture is only acceptable if you’re sure the terrorist knows where the bomb is, but isn’t telling’, and then to ‘only when you suspect the terrorist knows where the bomb is’. This will then get expanded to include ‘people who are associated with the suspect, and so who probably know something about it too’. Then the requirements of ‘suspect’ will get lowered, and so on and so on. The point is, torture will become acceptable. We will have gone from a society in which torture is a taboo and outlawed to one in which it is acceptable and commonplace. Thus, the utilitarian thing to do would in fact be to avoid torture whatever the scenario. As Harvey A. Silverglate so succinctly puts it: “This is a genie we should not let out of the bottle”.

Dershowitz himself acknowledges this point:

“We know from experience that law enforcement personnel who are given limited
authority to torture will expand its use”
...but doesn’t let this get in the way of his argument. He just moves on as if it didn’t exist, when in fact it destroys his argument completely, for a very simple reason: even if we accept Dershowitz’s premise that the real debate is between whether torture should happen legally or illegally, his proposal still wouldn’t hold up, because as he himself admits, there would still be illegal torture! It’s just that now, we would have both legal and illegal torture. Brilliant!

In a separate article, he provides a counter-point:

“By expressly limiting the use of torture only to the ticking bomb case and by
requiring a highly visible judge to approve, limit and monitor the torture, it
will be far more difficult to justify its extension to other institutions.”

This doesn’t make any sense. Currently torture is illegal, and so if the law or what a Judge says made such a difference to, as Dershowitz puts it, what goes on “in the back rooms of real police station houses”, then there would be no torture going on now, and so Dershowitz’s fundamental premise that ‘torture is inevitable’ would be false and his argument destroyed. If, on the other hand, the law and what Judges say makes no difference to what happens “in the back rooms”, then the argument that requiring Judges to authorise torture will restrict its use is false, since we have already established that, when it comes to torture, what Judges say doesn’t hold much water in the “back rooms”. Either way, Dershowitz’s argument is destroyed.

Dershowitz explains that torture is not banned by the Constitution:

“Any interrogation technique, including the use of truth serum or even torture,
is not prohibited. All that is prohibited is the introduction into evidence of
the fruits of such techniques in a criminal trial against the person on whom the
techniques were used. But the evidence could be used against that suspect in a
non-criminal case--such as a deportation hearing--or against someone else”

However, as Harvey A. Silverglate points out,

“Dershowitz fails to mention altogether another amendment — the Eighth, which
states quite plainly that no "cruel or unusual punishments [shall be]
inflicted." The modern-era Supreme Court has ruled that this standard, which is
inherently subjective, must be interpreted according to society’s evolving
standards of decency. It is likely that the pre–September 11 Court would have
ruled that techniques all would agree constitute "torture" would qualify as
"cruel" and (for our society, at least) "unusual."
Silverglate also argues very well another objection to Dershowitz’s idea:

“Second, we should think twice before entirely divorcing law from morality. There can be little doubt that until now, Americans have widely viewed torture as beyond the pale. The US rightly criticizes foreign governments that engage in the practice, and each year our Department of State issues a report that classifies foreign nations on the basis of their human-rights records, including the use of torture. Our country has signed numerous international treaties and compacts that decry the use of torture. We tamper with that hard-won social agreement at our grave moral peril.”

He also points out that our legal system already possesses methods for dealing with “ticking bomb” situation like the one Dershowitz proposed. He points to the famous ‘Regina v. Dudley and Stephens’ case to show how. Essentially, if a policeman were in the position where he really knew for certain that the terrorist possessed life-saving information, he could torture and then submit for trial. There are then various ways he can be acquitted, despite being obviously guilty. Thus, Dershowitz’s “torture warrants” are not only silly, but also completely unnecessary.

[Cross-posted at The Heathlander]

The Real World

"Human Rights Watch, the ICRC, Amnesty International, and the other self-professed guardians of humanitarianism need to come back to earth—to the real world in which torture means what the Nazis and the Japanese did in their concentration and POW camps in World War II."

Heather Mac Donald

VII. We Must Withstand!

Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.

Benito Mussolini

The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great
political importance: The growth of democracy, the growth of corporate
power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting
corporate power against democracy.

Alex Carey

Only in a society like ours the question of torture can be easily answered. We have one sole motivation: 'greed'. We all are subjugated by one master: 'I'. There's nothing else left and worse: after the deterioration of the 'I' there's nothing to provide for or care about...You can have it – you can have it only once – you can have it only now – go and get it.

Only in a society like ours you will find misers, shysters and apologist who can calculate and will the price of a human life. And consequently will tell you many lives are worth more than one. And only on an assumption like that you can seriously consider something like Dershovitzes 'torture warrant'. If we don't raise above the quagmire of corporatism we will not be able to detect the damage that is done to our wounded society even just by considering torture as a means of interrogation.

That something has the potential to be widely abused - and has been and is being widely misused - should not inevitably lead to its utter, universal, and unconditional proscription. Guns, cars, knives, and books have always been put to vile ends. Nowhere did this lead to their complete interdiction.

Sam Vaknin

Sounds nice – is bullshit. The American reluctance to restrict access to fire arms cannot be considered as the pure example of a successful policy. From a non-American perspective one might very well argue that the US-government is negligently omitting a ban on fire arms although they have proven to cause endless pain and suffering on human beings.

The damage legalized torture will inflict on our 'open' society need not be waited for. Will it be misused? Will it be grossly misused?

Until 1999 'mild physical pressure' was allowed in Israel to gain information from a suspect in order to safe lives, well actually hundreds of lives. In real life this turned out to widespread misuse.

We've got the answer.
We must withstand.



"Outlawed" is a video created by WITNESS and tells the story of torture and extraordinary rendition practiced by the Bush Administration. According to WITNESS:

"Outlawed: Extraordinary Rendition, Torture and Disappearances in the 'War on Terror'" tells the stories of Khaled El-Masri and Binyam Mohamed, two men who have survived extraordinary rendition, secret detention, and torture by the U.S. government working with various other governments worldwide. "Outlawed" features relevant commentary from Louise Arbour, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, U.S. President George W. Bush, Michael Scheuer, the chief architect of the rendition program and former head of the Osama Bin Laden unit at the CIA, and Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. Secretary of State.

WITNESS is a human rights organization founded by Peter Gabriel that documents human rights abuses by using the power of video. I received a copy of this video when I attended the Extraordinary Rendition and Torture Teach-in at Georgetown University Law Center last month. It was an event organized by Amnesty International and others as part of Torture Awareness Month.

[Cross posted at Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying]

Abu Ghraib: The Las Vegas of Iraq

From Media Matters:

... nationally syndicated talk-radio host Jay Severin criticized President Bush for calling the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal "a mistake," stating: "[W]e took terror prisoners, and we treated them essentially to a week in Las Vegas. I have to pay good money to have that done to me." Severin added of Abu Ghraib: "I didn't see anything that equates with torture being done in Abu Ghraib. ... [E]xplain to me what it is that was so terrible at Abu Ghraib, but the facts don't matter anymore, you know, they walked around naked. Big deal."
After reading this, I have to ask what Mr. Severin uses as his safe word. Obviously this man is into some really sick games.

It's absurdities like this that not only make me question people's morals, but make me question their intelligence. For example, waterboarding isn't something you do behind a speed boat on Lake Mead.

Donald Rumsfield may write "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?" but he knows very well, or he should, that the comparison is absurd. Detainees are not given offices without chairs. What this implies is a deliberate PR spin, like that used in campaign ads to give the public a nice cozy feeling about actions that can easily turn deadly.

If the motive for torture is military intelligence then doing anything that threatens the life of the detainees threatens the ends being worked toward. If the detainees' lives are treated casually then we have no choice but to believe that the motive is NOT military intelligence.

To use the example from an earlier blogathon post, V. I confess: I am!

'You hold a terrorist who knows the location of a diffusable bomb which, if exploded, will kill x million people. Do you have the right to torture him/her to find the bomb?'
If we say yes, how do we justify killing the sources of information so valuable that ethics must be thrown out the window?

From Human Rights First

Most troubling among all of these cases are those we describe as detainees tortured to death, a number we put at 8-12. These are detainees who were beaten, suffocated, or otherwise died in circumstances meeting the definition of torture set out in the federal law banning the practice, which criminalizes acts “specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.”
Each of these deaths represents a setback in the war on terror. Either because we are losing valuable information or because these people were tortured simply to make us feel safer.

It isn't just those who have been charged with abuse who need to answer for the deaths of detainees, it is also those who created the environment where abuse is something people would pay for on a Las Vegas getaway and those who will buy that analogy because to do otherwise would be depressing.

Marcella (like my other posts this one will be cross-posted on my personal blog)
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