Archive for category North America
When the film “Zero Dark Thirty” started appearing dozens of times on our newsfeed each morning, at first I thought I wouldn’t have to address it. After all, we have written more than a handful of blogs on the U.S. torture programme, how torture in interrogations has been proven to be completely ineffective, and regardless is irrefutably illegal, amoral, offensive and prohibited under international law and under all circumstances.
But alas it seems I will have to repeat myself.
The problem with “Zero Dark Thirty” is not that it depicts torture. A film demonstrating the truly horrific act of torture, and what it does to people, the graphic cruelty, is not without worth. The problem with this film is that it presents itself as a realistic account of the search for Osama bin Laden, and that during this hunt, information obtained through torture was instrumental in finding him.
There-in lays the most devious lie. The CIA has repeated again that torture was not useful in obtaining the intelligence information that led to Bin Laden. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein and Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin also denied this was the case. But there it is in celluloid. Such a depiction simply bolsters the arguments of those who defend the efficacy of the US’s torture programme and the use of torture more generally as an effective measure to extract information and keep people ‘safe from terrorism’, a scenario that has been roundly debunked.
As Glenn Greenwald writes in The Guardian: “it propagandizes the public to favorably view clear war crimes by the US government, based on pure falsehoods.”
The debate over the film, however, is so off-kilter that even in engaging in these arguments, I find myself repeating the same framing of this debate that I find deplorable in the first place.
So let’s rephrase. It doesn’t matter if torture is effective or not. It’s not effective, as numerous parties have stated. But that’s not the point. It’s immoral, inhuman, illegal, and counter to any modern notion of human rights and international law. Torture is prohibited. Period.
In spite of its extremely problematic depictions, “Zero Dark Thirty” is a film. And while I do understand that films become part of a national discourse – or, in the words of Karen Greenberg, “[Zero Dark Thirty] will unfortunately substitute for actual history in the minds of many Americans” – the furor raised by this film should rather be directed at more dubious political decisions of the last few weeks with regard to torture – decisions that may have real, palpable consequences for the continued use of torture and the continued impunity for those who carried out or supported that programme.
Just earlier this month, John Brennan, former director of CIA’s National Counterterrorism Center until fall 2005, was nominated to head the intelligence agency, a move that critics say is highly indicative to the ways in which the crimes of the Bush administration have been institutionalised during Obama’s first term (see also, the National Defense Authorization Act in institutionalising indefinite detention). Brennan was removed from the shortlist of nominees in 2008, largely because he was considered ‘too controversial’ a figure; he has been vocally supportive of some of the worst human rights crimes of the Bush administration, including rendition and torture.
Consider a 2005 interview he gave soon after leaving the CIA. Asked about rendition and why some terrorism suspects are sent to other countries, Brennan responded:
“Well, sometimes that is the case because there could be an outstanding warrant for someone’s arrest in another country or they need to go back to the country of their origin because the local government and service can in fact question them more effectively in that country than in the place where they had been captured.”
His opinion on rendition?
“And I can say without a doubt that it has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives.”
What we now know is that his useless euphemisms on ‘effective interrogation’ really meant being tortured in other countries, whether it was Egypt, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, or other CIA ‘black sites’. Many of the countries where detainees were sent were cited by the US’s own State Department for human rights violations and torture – a clear violation of the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits countries from sending individuals to a country where there is a clear risk of torture. Just last month, the European Court of Human Rights deemed the treatment of one such detainee, Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen who was mistaken for another person, to be illegal. El-Masri was detained in Macedonia, handed over to CIA officials, who then sent him on an illegal rendition flight to an Afghanistan ‘black site’, where was secretly held and tortured for four months.
But a large point to consider is that we don’t even know the extent of Brennan’s involvement in the torture and rendition programme. US involvement in torture, its extent, and who is responsible remains shadowy and beset by piece-meal information.
The US Senate Intelligence Committee approved last month a 6,000 page ‘torture report’ on the CIA’s detention and interrogation policies. But it has not been made public. It currently remains classified, and considering the Obama administration’s ‘reluctance’ (to put it kindly) to address the crimes of the previous administration and hold anyone accountable, well, I’m not holding my breath.
The furor over ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is not without merit and cause. But it could also be directed to more pressing crimes – the continued impunity and, in Brennan’s case, the institutionalising of these crimes. Instead of boycotting the film’s director Kathryn Bigelow or protesting outside of cinemas, we should hold our policy-makers to account, bring out the full truth on these heinous crimes depicted in the film and ensure that those defending such crimes don’t end up in leadership positions again.
Tessa is a Communications Officer at the IRCT.
The day saw an unprecedented number of organisations around the world come together to mark the day, to stand in solidarity with survivors of torture and to remind the world that rehabilitation for torture survivors not only works, it is a right to which they are entitled.
As Joost Martens, IRCT Secretary-General says in his foreword to the report,
Each year, on 26 June, we pause to commemorate and honour the victims of torture, both historic and present. The day has been marked since 1988, which was the first anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, signed on 26 June 1987.
Yet today, despite its absolute prohibition, torture continues to be a global phenomenon: both physical and psychological torture is prevalent in over half the world’s countries. This is a disgrace in the twenty-first century.
Its victims are men, women – often targeted by rape and other sexual torture, and also, children. Torture victims are disproportionately from marginalised groups, in particular the poor, but also minority groups, such as ethnic, religious and sexual minorities.
The day gives us a time to pause and remember those who have suffered, and stand with those who continue to suffer, for, the effects of torture continue long after the actual act has happened.
These are some of the photos we got from 26 June events around the world:
US Justice Department closes investigation of CIA torture programme with no criminal charges
No one has been charged for any crimes committed during the Bush Administration’s CIA torture programme. US Department of Justice Attorney General Eric Holder announced yesterday that the department had concluded its investigation and found that, “the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”
So, yet again, crimes that took place during the Bush era will be pushed aside. Whatever the reasons given for this decision, the reality remains that crimes occurred – torture, rendition, abuse of detainees – in clear violation of well-established international law [PDF]. The ongoing impunity for these abuses and the lack of justice for the victims shows that the U.S. continues to flout the rule of law.
The investigation, broadly speaking, focused on three main areas: detainees allegedly held by the CIA abroad, the destruction of CIA videotaped interrogations, and two deaths in detention. The latter two portions of the investigation had previously been dropped, and the final announcement yesterday pertained only to the deaths of Gul Rahman and Manadel al-Jamadi.
Rahman, a suspected Afghan militant, was taken to a CIA-operated prison near Kabul, called the Salt Pit. Left inside a cold cell and half-naked, Rahman was found dead in the early morning of 20 November 2002. According to the Associated Press, a CIA doctor ruled the cause of his death as hypothermia. His body was never returned to his relatives.
Manadel al-Jamadi was among those detained and interrogated at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He died within five hours of his arrest, and military investigators ruled his death a homicide caused by, “blunt force trauma to the torso complicated by compromised respiration.”
The families of neither of these men will see justice any time soon. No one has been found guilty; no was has had to face criminal charges for their deaths. Impunity continues to reign in the U.S.
Canada’s national police directives clearly violate international law, which dictates that countries must not use information or evidence obtained through torture
We have said it before; and we shall say it again.
Countries must not use evidence or information obtained through torture. In any circumstances. Doing so is a clear violation of international law, especially those countries who have signed onto the obligations within the UN Convention Against Torture. The Convention, which Canada ratified in 1985, states:
Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.
Yet, Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has issued directives to both the Canadian Border Services Agency and the national police, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), saying that they have the authority to use and share data and evidence that was likely obtained through torture.
Toews apparently has a short memory. Just six years ago, a federal commission recommended that Canada never share information with other countries if it is likely that it will cause or contribute to torture. This recommendation followed an investigation into the case of Canadian engineer Maher Arar, who was detained in the U.S. after RCMP provided faulty information to the US authorities. Arar was rendered to his native Syria, where he was tortured and detained for about a year.
Arar’s case was among those mentioned in the hefty criticisms leveled against the Canadian government during this year’s review by the UN Committee against Torture. The Committee condemned Canadian ‘complicity’ in torture.
Canada joins others such as Denmark in the shameful club of countries that justify their use of information obtained through torture by clinging to the long-dismissed arguments of ‘ticking-time bombs’ and public safety.
And using information obtained through torture simply allows it to continue unabated.
With a Republican VP running-mate finally named, the countdown to the U.S. election begins. But with only 85 days remaining, there is a glaring lack of debate on human rights and torture in America.
In the United States and beyond, newspapers are being filled with the ongoing policy discussions related to the U.S. presidential election. With less than three months to go, however, next to nothing has been said about America’s ongoing problem with torture.
Just this weekend, candidate Mitt Romney announced his choice for a vice-presidential running mate; it’s Paul Ryan, a Republican representative from Wisconsin and a “fiscal policy wonk”, as he’s most consistently described. It’s a pretty clear signal — this election is about the economy and the diverging ideologies of how to remove the U.S. from the ongoing recession.
And lost within these debates on domestic and economic policy is any discussion on torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in the U.S.; the 80,000 prisoners detained in long-term solitary confinement, the rendition and torture programme of the Bush years, or the particular case of Bradley Manning.
Manning, 24, who is accused of supplying the largest leak of state secrets in U.S. history to Wikileaks, was detained for more than eight months in conditions his lawyers describe as a “flagrant violation” of his rights, in a motion published this Friday.
According to the motion, Manning was subject to “cruel and unusual” treatment in military detention. He was forced to remain awake every day from 5:00 to 22:00, during which he could not lay down or lean against a wall or other support – “he had to sit upright on his rack without any back support”, his lawyer writes. Manning was also only permitted 20 minutes outdoors a day; any time outside of his cell he was forced to wear leg and arm restraints.
Following a 14-month investigation, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez described the treatment of Manning as torture.
These are also issues that also need to be addressed and raised during the next 85 days. When the media has gone so far as to debate a candidate’s treatment of his pet during the 1980s, and not yet raise the issue of torture, it’s a depressing sign of America’s depleted authority on human rights.
Let’s finally have this proper debate on torture in the U.S. So let these candidates know that we want them to tell us about their views – on long-term solitary confinement, on cruel treatment of Bradley Manning, and on impunity of those involved in the US rendition and torture programme. Ask them on Facebook, Twitter and townhall meetings.
Tessa, a US citizen living in Denmark, is Communications Officer at the IRCT.
The world needs to know CIA torture was pointless, thus public release is imperative
The four-year long investigation on CIA’s detention and torture practices after 9/11 by the US Senate Intelligence Committee is close to an end.
Did the harsh “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by CIA produce counter-terrorism breakthroughs or no more than wrong leads? Could information have been obtained in other ways?
According to Reuters, “the backers of such techniques, […] maintain they have led to the disruption of major terror plots and the capture of al Qaeda leaders.”
Most of the speculation around this question though, seems to be confirming that the Bush administration made an enormous mistake by choosing to ignore the immense body of knowledge disproving the effectiveness of torture.
To make it clear, the report needs to be made public. Activists and human rights organisations, including the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, are therefore pressing for its release.
“Moving forward” and “learning lessons” cannot be done without holding perpetrators of torture to account
After 25 years in exile, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the former ‘president for life’ responsible for the deaths of over 30,000 Haitians, returned to his country and was promptly put on trial.
However, much to the likely devastation of the survivors of his torturous regime and the families of victims killed during his term, he has only been charged with corruption and embezzlement. There are to be no charges for the torture, extrajudicial killings, and ‘disappearances’ that the victims of his crimes deserve to see him held accountable for.
And both expectantly and deservedly, the condemnations of the Haitian decision have come flooding in. From the Washington Post Editorial Board to the UN High Commission for Human Rights, the magistrate responsible for the decision has been unanimously vilified for allowing Duvalier impunity for his most heinous crimes and human rights violations. I agree that Duvalier should be held accountable and that this recent decision was rightfully worthy of condemnation.
However, a common from Haiti’s current president caught my attention: Asked about the Duvalier case, President Martelly told The Washington Post: “It is part of the past. We need to learn our lessons and move forward.”
President Martelly’s language is markedly similar to another leader a little to the north of the island nation. The current U.S. administration has refused to pursue an investigation or charges against top Bush Administration officials for allegations of torture committed during the so-called ‘war on terror’, with Obama saying in a statement that it is a “time for reflection, not retribution”. These crimes too have been swept under the carpet, despite international obligations to properly investigate and hold perpetrators to account.
Yet both Duvalier and U.S. government officials need to be held to account for their crimes. Sweeping the responsibility for these crimes under the rug not only fails the state’s obligations to the survivors and victims’ families; it perpetuates a cycle of impunity, and gives a free rein for torturers to continue.
Ten years ago today, the first detainees arrived in Guantánamo. Between now and then, the detention centre has become more than just a symbol of human rights violations, but the site of crimes of torture and arbitrary, indefinite detention. Look at the figures provided here by the American Civil Liberties Union, a US-based organisation that focuses on civil rights.
As such, we have released a statement condemning the prison, requesting its immediate closure, and the trying or release of the current 171 detainees (note: no detainees have been released in the last year despite almost 90 being cleared for release).
The naval base and prison, which sits on less than 120 square kilometers of land at the southern tip of Cuba, is more than just a symbol of the continued human rights violations of the United States, but the site of “continuous crimes of torture and ill-treatment amounting to shocking human rights concerns,” says IRCT Secretary General Brita Sydhoff.
As today marks 10 years after the first detainees arrived at the base, the IRCT joins other organisations and human rights defenders around the world in calling for the closure of Guantánamo Bay, and either trying detainees or releasing them.
Despite President Obama’s pledge to close the infamous prison, two years have passed since his deadline, and there is no indication from authorities or Congress that they will do so. Instead, on 31 January 2011, Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included an amendment that authorized indefinite detention.
“Rather than make good on his promise to close Guantánamo, the NDAA has codified the abhorrent practices in place for the last 10 years,” Sydhoff says. “This anniversary, the ongoing arbitrary detention of prisoners, and the complete lack of accountability for the crimes committed within the last decade speak to the failure of the U.S. and the Obama administration to live up to their human rights obligations.”
“No more unfortunate anniversaries should pass before the U.S. affirms its commitment to human rights, closing the doors on Guantánamo and bringing the perpetrators of crimes committed there to justice.”
China does not fall under our radar very often, but today a very interesting piece on torture in China caught our attention. The German Der Spiegel tells the story of the poet Liao Yiwu and presents his recently published memoir. In his memoir, forbidden to be published in China, Liao Yiwu reveals the abuses and torture he suffered during four years in prison.
When you think you’ve heard everything there is to hear about Guantánamo, here comes a new angle. The Russian daily Pravda reports that Guantanamo is the world’s most expensive jail, using $800,000 for each of the 171 detainees.
Finally, the Bahraini Muscat Daily published exclusive interviews with two Bahraini women medics. These women, who were sentenced to 15 years each in jail for their alleged role in the anti-government protests in Manama early this year, have revealed that they were severely tortured during their detention.
On Saturday evening three of the the Republican candidates for the US Presidency expressed their support for torture. In fact, they came out in support of waterboarding, claiming it wasn’t torture at all.
We find this deeply disturbing in light of the consensus that waterboarding clearly is torture.
US columnist Frank Bruni also strongly criticised the candidates’ statements, in his words: “If we truly believe ourselves to be exceptional, a model for all the world and an example for all of history, then why would we practice torture? “
Let us be clear again: torture is never justified. Under any circumstances. In any place. At any time.