Posts Tagged guardian

London Guantanamo Campaign talks to highlight torture of Omar Khadr

Omar Khadr (picture courtesy of the Guardian)

Omar Khadr (picture courtesy of the Guardian)

“He’s missing a piece of his chest and I can see his heart beating,” says one unidentified US Army Officer recalling a heavy firefight in Afghanistan. But for the victim, a 15-year-old Omar Khadr, the injuries were only the start of his pain.

Held in Guantanamo Bay for 10 years, and now detained in a Canadian jail, Canadian citizen Omar Khadr is just one tragic example of human rights abuses under the watch of a country often deemed to champion human rights.

Following the bombardment on his compound in 2002, Omar was held prisoner and tortured in Bagram, Afghanistan, by the US military, suspected of killing Sergeant Christopher Speer in the battle. It is a charge human rights groups have contested ever since, particularly amidst reports the US military doctored their accounts of the battle to mask Speer’s death from friendly fire as murder by an Afghani insurgent.

And despite being a child soldier at the time of the alleged killing – by definition of the UN Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict – Omar was controversially charged as an adult for war crimes in 2012.

Omar was repatriated to Canada, a move which has since drawn criticism for its delays and alleged use of torture to gain a confession for the death of Speer ten-years previously.

Dennis Edney QC

Dennis Edney QC

Fighting for his freedom ever since is Dennis Edney QC, who is assisting Omar in overturning his sentence from his prison cell in Canada.

To highlight the case, and to illuminate the human rights abuses, the London Guantanamo Campaign has arranged a series of talks with Mr Edney from 12 March.

Held at various locations across London, and one talk in York, Mr Edney’s tour culminates with an appearance at Amnesty International on 18 March.

The talks, which are free admission, will no doubt provide a unique insight not only into the human rights abuses and torture in the case of Omar, but also the ill-treatment that exists worldwide, and the failings of governments often considered to uphold a decent standard of human rights.

For a full calendar of talks and for ticket information, please click this link.

For a full report on Omar’s case from the London Guantanamo Campaign, click this link.

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Hunger strikes and torture

Many torture victims have historically used the protest method of hunger striking to fight for change

As of this blog’s posting, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has been on hunger strike for 90 days in protest of his detention and treatment in Bahrain. The use of hunger strikes has a long history for the politically powerless to advocate for change. Photo available through Creative Commons license.

Currently, in Bahrain Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja remains on hunger strike – day 90, according to the organisation that he founded, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.

Guarded by the Bahrain Defence Force, Al-Khawaja has not consumed food in about three months in protest of his ongoing mistreatment – both torture at the hands of military and police officials, and judicial mistreatment by the military court that found him guilty and delivered a life sentence for his involvement in last year’s protests. He further accused authorities of force feeding him during recent weeks, an accusation that they, of course, deny.

Hunger strikes have a long history among political dissidents, detainees, and,  the politically powerless to advocate or coerce authorities into policy changes. It can be both a powerful tool for enacting change, and, by its nature, can also be extremely dangerous and even deadly for its participants. Some famous examples of hunger strikers include:

Mohandas Gandhi during the British rule of India;

• Women on both sides of the Atlantic protesting for equal suffrage during the early 20th century;

• Irish republicans in particular have a long history of hunger striking; but this tactic was famously used during the early 1980s by Bobby Sands and other prisoners of the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland. Ten hunger strikers died in 1981;

Among the longest and most deadly strikes were those that took place in Turkey, with the final wave beginning in 2000, over the government’s prison policy – the state was building new prisons that the protesters feared would be used for long-term solitary confinement for political dissidents, regardless of whether they had even been formally charged with a crime.

• At Guantanamo Bay, hunger strikes have been ongoing since 2005, when more than 120 detainees were on hunger strike at one point. Since then, this number has varied as the U.S. government has continued to force feed the strikers. It is unknown how many detainees remain on hunger strike today.

As hunger striking is often a tactic of absolute last resort, many torture victims have employed hunger strikes to protest their treatment and perhaps ongoing torture and detention.

Al-Khawaja is one such example; during his detention, which began in April of last year, he has been severely tortured by Bahrain authorities. In fact, his previous visit to the Bahrain military hospital where he is today was after such a severe beating in prison that he underwent surgery to have titanium plates inserted into the sides of his head.

Other U.S. prisoners, in California’s Pelican Bay Prison, have also engaged in limited hunger strikes in protest of long-term solitary confinement. They have since requested a formal ruling from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Mendez, who has previously deemed long-term solitary confinement as torture.

Detainees at Guantamao Bay have too used hunger striking to protest their treatment and ongoing detention. However, rather than trying or freeing the Guantanamo detainees, or ceasing the ongoing torture and ill-treatment there, the U.S. government has instead been force-feeding hunger strikers since 2005 – both a violation of patients’ autonomy and another form or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

Force-feeding hunger strikers is often a highly controversial issue, none the least because it questions medical ethics and physicians adherence to set principles, such as ‘do no harm’, and requirements of patient consent. The World Medical Association has come out against force-feeding as it violates medical ethics, such as respecting patient autonomy, primary obligations to patients over employers, preventing maltreatment, and preventing harm. This is especially true in cases, such as in Guantanamo, where authorities are force-feeding hunger strikers well before the fast becomes life-threatening. Furthermore, the process of force-feeding itself – often inserting feeding tubes down an uncooperative patients’ nose or throat – can cause immense pain and suffering.

Most important to consider is that the vast majority of hunger strikers do not want to die. Death is not the goal, and a hunger strike is generally not considered suicide. It is a measure of last resort for an often powerless figure fighting for policy change, to end torture and mistreatment or for release from degrading and arbitrary detention.

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An ugly truth

The jobs we do not see advertised in the papers

”If this sounds like a sick joke, that’s only because jobs like this aren’t usually advertised. But the jobs exist and there’s no shortage of candidates.”

This is the point made by Freedom from Torture, a UK-based rehabilitation organisation and IRCT member, through an original campaign being run in major British newspapers.

An unusual job offer, but a usual reality

The organisation came up with several fictional job ads, where, for example, “a government department is looking for a torturer to work in a well equipped prison”, or “a militia group is recruiting a senior human rights abuser.”

Among several other oddities, candidates applying for the “torturer job” are expected to be ready to inflict extreme pain and suffering.

This ad and other similar ones created by Freedom from Torture are surely taking job-seekers by surprise. However, the reality portrayed by the campaign may also be a surprise to the general public. The reality is, torture – and torturers – exist and is a common practice around the world. Lack of awareness about it impedes the work done by the torture rehabilitation organisations, members of the IRCT network, like Freedom from Torture.

As Freedom from Torture puts it, we need your help. You can contribute to efforts to alleviate the devastating long-lasting effects of torture and join us in speaking out against this inhumane practice and supporting the work of the IRCT and its members.

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