Torture

At the time of this video (2003) Omar Khadr was 16. We are supposed to be at a stage where we try to rescue child soldiers, not deprive them of all of their human rights. That the Canadian government continues to make no effort to repatriate him is a disgrace, as is his continued detention. Before this video was shot he had been sleep deprived, allowed no more than three hours of sleep at a time, for twenty one days.

This is an abuse, and it should horrify you as it does me. He remains in Guantánamo Bay, only recently reacquiring human rights under the Geneva Convention, but with a de-facto inability to access them, and still facing indefinite detention without any representation whatsoever. If this is the result of the ‘War’ on terror, we should look long and hard at what it’s made us, and think again.

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14 responses to “Torture

  1. Yes He was tortured, yes he was only 16, yes this is a botch up of incredible proportions. The question is what would you do with these people? Say it wasn’t a 16 year old but a 30 year old that was known for decapitating ransom victims or military personal, how are you going to deal with them. It’s all well and good to decry torture, but failing to give an alternative merely presents the masses with an empty cry. Personally I am not overly moved by anti-torture activists arguments. The numbers of countries that torture versus the numbers that don’t are staggeringly small. When presented with evidence that the Dutch, the french, the italians, and the russians torture, one is left to ask, “who doesn’t?”. Ethically speaking hurting another human is only allowed by our state instruments. The Courts, the Military, the police, organs like that. But when the state decides that torture has become an option, I believe the opposing party should have to do more than cry, “oh the humanity”. For the most case we are dealing with people that left humanity long long ago. Should I accord them the same rights as an innocent civilian that they blew up? I don’t think so. This is why nations have military courts, but as legalism has taken root in our chambers of politics, more and more extra-judiciary functions are taken over by the justice branch. Not always for the best.

    Once again, unless the captured person is wearing a military uniform the geneva convention does not apply. The question that has been poised to the US courts and answered over the last 7 years is does US law apply to captured foreign nationals and if so how. What may surprise you is that the US supreme courts recent decision to try captured real or suspected terrorists under US law is in fact a dangerous precedent not only because it will tie up my countries courts and let foreign criminals loose in my country, (as Britain has recently had to do), but because it says they are all subject to US law. That means US federal agents now have the supposed right to pick up anyone caught breaking our federal laws and try them in US courts. As much as I support the eventual rise of Pax Americana, I think this is a dangerous step and one that is completely over looked.

  2. In the case of Omar the answer is clear – we don’t persecute child soldiers for the abuse which made them what we are – we deprogramme them. He may or may not be guilty of what he’s accused of, but getting captured at 15, he’s really not considered to be the one responsible for whatever he might have done. Politically too, extending the argument outward from him, it’s outrageous for Americans to summarily arrest whoever attacks them around the world, legitimately or not (in both sides’ eyes) and take them home with them to do whatever they please with. How fucking arrogant – as if Americans are more important than any other nationality, military-wise or not.

    Should I accord them the same rights as an innocent civilian that they blew up?

    Yes. Human rights either apply to everyone or they apply to noone. It’s a no-brainer, that one. You torture them and there’s no way you can guarantee the likelihood of even partially accurate information – people will say anything to make pain stop. That’s been known for thousands of years; it won’t change for the US. And everyone must retain the right (guaranteed under the UN for a very good reason) to face a charge and know their accuser when they are detained, to avoid summary detention which is even more dangerous. There is no way of knowing the real stories of the people detained in Guantánamo without lawyers to tell them, without a media to investigate them and a judicial system to rule on them fairly. We learned this lesson once and for all in 1945, set up a whole new framework to set it in stone for good, and 9/11 didn’t change a thing in that equation – not a thing.

    As for the other point about federal agents just picking people up worldwide under US law, that’s hardly a surprise. It’s an extension of numerous other American laws which presume American primacy over everything, right down to copyright. But it’s what’s retroactively justified extraordinary rendition, which is even more unacceptable (you’re right) than a soldier picking someone out of a battlefield. They aren’t even necessarily taken to Cuba – try jails in eastern Europe and the middle east, Egypt in particular, and just disappear from the world. It is indeed overlooked, and Britain’s MPs are still pretending they don’t know about it – they’re not very good liars, any of them.

  3. That’s still not saying what to do with them, and as for, “we deprogram them”, I’m skeptical that anything along these lines wouldn’t amount to torture to half the world either. Your assuming that people don’t choose this of their own free will, age 15 or not. Your also assuming that there is a group that would go around taking the time to sit and brainwash people into the way you believe they should be. Kind of a logical disconnect that one.

    As for assuming that not giving one person “human rights robs us all”, I disagree people who do not ascribe to our social contract, should not gain the benefits that it offers. Look at all the “honor killings” throughout Europe, and North America, These are parents or siblings that take the law into their own hands and murder their own family members over perceived insults to their family honor. Should I try to view the world through their eyes? Should I teach children that their culture is as good as mine and that if we all live together that we will see the good in it and all benefit? For all the wests foibles it is infinitely better than the theocratic hellhole that make up the majority of muslim countries in this world. I am for trying to create stable federal republics in the middle east, and dismiss the arguments that, “they just aren’t ready” as blatant racism. However I must draw a line when presented with the, “Fiat Accompl” that states hurting a single human hurts everyone. While I agree that the erosion of rights can be a dangerous road, the converse which you are both cheering and bemoaning, of giving citizen rights to captured militants is not the answer.
    You cannot be a citizen of the UN regardless of the crap they have written about human rights. The UN is not a government, it does not have an army and it’s laws are routinely ignored (mostly with good reason) because they are typically passed by dictators who think the most important thing in the world is holding onto power and bashing Israel.
    As for renditions, yeah it’s scary shit, no lie there, I’m not sure what I find more disturbing though the fact that most countries seem to be fully in on it. Regardless of what they tell their voters not a single country has seemed to stop the process so don’t depend to heavily on government support for this to stop, these are clandestine operations, meaning they are outside the rule of law.
    As for american legal primacy, well lets leave that for a different posts.

  4. Also young Omar did throw a grenade that killed a US soldier, thus making himself a candidate under the geneva convention for summary execution. If you want to follow the law you have to accept it consequences

  5. Your assuming that people don’t choose this of their own free will, age 15 or not.

    We’re even having this conversation, without him having been charged by anyone of anything, and proof shown in open court of his guilt for a judge and jury to deliberate on. The word of a soldier or any other individual shouldn’t be good enough for anyone – evidence to be tested by a jury, and presented by a lawyer is. I’m stunned I have to explain this. I’m also stunned that I’m having to explain the idea of a 15 year old choosing this of his own free will (were that the case) would have a totally different meaning to a 25 year old or a 50 year old. Remember that he did come from a family of extremists – what room did he have to even make a free choice? And if it were your country being invaded, what would you do? Just sit back and hope for the best when there wasn’t even a functioning country even before the invasion? These are all vital considerations.

    I’m skeptical that anything along these lines wouldn’t amount to torture to half the world either.

    I’m not sure what that means. I can look for cited references if you like, but child protection conventions, most likely developed in war zones like Sierra Leone and the DR Congo, accept that child soldiers are the result of abuse and should at the very least not be treated as adults. Sort of goes without saying that you don’t hold a child who commits crimes because of abuse, accountable for them in the same way that you would an adult. There’s a free will thing going on.

    While I agree that the erosion of rights can be a dangerous road, the converse which you are both cheering and bemoaning, of giving citizen rights to captured militants is not the answer.

    Who is the United States to even take them away? The arrogance of the logic of that philosophy is remarkable. Who can we safely identify as a captured militant if they aren’t tried fairly in a court of law? If the US can already arbitrarily do this to any individual on earth, what’s to stop them doing the same with anyone else? The story here is alarmingly one sided – we barely even know what goes on in Afghanistan or Iraq for starters, although we do know that the abuse which accompanied the destruction of Fallujah was unspeakable. If you were an Iraqi say, and knew what happened, would you then be wrong to fight back and become a ‘captured militant’? Oh right, only the US side in this ‘war’ on terror, which completely recasts people in roles that don’t even make sense to any of them, is ‘right’.

    The UN is not a government, it does not have an army and it’s laws are routinely ignored (mostly with good reason) because they are typically passed by dictators who think the most important thing in the world is holding onto power and bashing Israel.

    They’re routinely ignored for good reason? Which UN resolutions have been ignored for good reason? Do you mean Security Council resolutions, which are normally passed on the grounds of human rights protection by permanent members who believe in human rights, and vetoed by those who don’t. I’m not sure who these dictators are who set up ‘UN laws’. That there are dictatorships which are perversely allowed onto the Human Rights Council proves the urgency for reform (and it is mostly the US which is holding that up). There is no way the whole of us can possibly find a way forwards together, without being under at least the attempt of a joint umbrella, and in many ways the UN’s biggest failing is not finding a way yet of instituting a ‘world government’, however tentative. But remember the UN, despite having a bureaucracy around the world, is only as good as the sum of its parts, which is us. Subdivide that in any way and you crash its potential effectiveness.

  6. I’ve been reading through these posts and wanted to make a few points.

    > 1. The use of torture can never, under any circumstances, be justified by any ‘civilised’ state. No matter what an individual has done, by a state endorsing the use of torture (whether directly or indirectly) lowers that state to the same level as the captive and takes away any ‘moral authority’ that said state may feel it has to criticise other states for their use of cruel and inhuman forms of punishment / interrogation.

    There is simply no justification, end of story. It is a disgusting and inhuman practice and frankly anyone who feels that they are able to argue in any way for such practices, even under ‘special situations’ are a disturbing mystery to me.

    > 2. To quote an earlier comment about the UN:

    “it’s laws are routinely ignored (mostly with good reason) because they are typically passed by dictators who think the most important thing in the world is holding onto power and bashing Israel”

    The only body at the United Nations with the ability to pass legally binding resolutions is the Security Council. Those resolutions cannot pass without support from the P5 members (USA, UK, France, China, Russia), none of which really fit with that statement.

    And actually it’s worth noting that passing a resolution in the Security Council which criticises Israel too strongly is practically impossible as the USA always vetos such resolutions.

    > 3. Human Rights. These do either apply to everyone or to no-one. You cannot pick-and-choose who has ‘universal’ human rights and who does not (and besides, who would have the right to make that distinction anyway? Certainly not any single state).

    The moment we start making ‘exceptions’ to who does and doesn’t ‘qualify’ for human rights is the moment (sadly past) that we again, lose any sort of moral authority to lecture other states about their human rights records.

    Either we believe in the universality of human rights and are willing to defend those rights in any situation or we don’t. You cannot have it both ways.

  7. Sorry for the delay, had a busy weekend and a new bf! and didn’t get a chance to get back to this.

    This basically seems to be boiling down into three issues,

    1. The belief that torture can never be condoned for any reason at any time. Because this, “drags us down to their level”, or is morally wrong.

    2. Do Human rights apply to everyone, are their universal human rights at all and who enforces these said rights.

    3. The difference between military battlefield justice and civilian justice.

    Now let me both clarify my positions concerning these three issues and why I believe that torture has both a time and place in our history, and in our cultures, and sadly even to this day.

    Torture has been used at some time and place by every nation and civilization that has ever lived on this planet. Because like it or not it’s effective, not because it necessarily always provides the truth, though many times it can. But more so because it creates a very real and palpable climate of fear against one’s enemies, foreign or domestic. No white washed history, or new age belief can wipe this from our shared human history. You say it doesn’t happen in your country, that it’s not allowed? Ask common prisoners about the tools that police have at their disposal that leave no marks, ask them how many people believe them when they claim it happened? It happens in my country it happens in your country it happens every where right beneath the thin veneer of civilization lives a hearty does of animal cruelty well versed it inflicting pain and extracting useful information. Does torture have to be drilling holes in peoples hands or breaking their feet? No it can be sleep deprivation, it can be solitary confinement, it can be a host of things but in the end it’s all the same, the application of power to break the mind and spirit of a prisoner.
    Blindly willing or stating this doe not or should not happen doesn’t change anything.

    I defend torture not because i am a sadist but because I am a realist, there are reasons one can find to justify it, (there is a bomb about to go off, they kidnapped my child and i have 3 hours to find them, they are holding a plane for ransom) But eventually you will find a compelling reason to justify it and that is not horrible, horrible is the person that created the situation, horrible is the person that holds peoples lives so cheaply that they would barter with them. Torturing someone does not bring you down to their level, torturing someone because you enjoy it would.

    Okay I’m going to have to go for a bit but I’ll send this and get started on the next two points after I get back

  8. Okay point 2 and 3,

    2. Do Human rights apply to everyone, are their universal human rights at all and who enforces these said rights.

    3. The difference between military battlefield justice and civilian justice.

    Human rights, and who do they apply to, now bear in mind this is my opinion based on my perception of rights and ones ability to maintain said rights.
    In the US our rights are laid out in the constitution, they are fairly broad, open for interpretation but fairly sacrosanct, The judicial branch makes sure that new laws do not tread on them and the executive branch tries to maintain protection of them, like voting and stuff like that. But these universal rights are tricky things. No one can enforce them, international courts like the Hague are toothless and beset by political whims, and they really don’t do anything for anyone. They sound pretty but not a single person at the UN, in my opinion gives a rats ass about them.
    Now if you have a supposed right, but no way to claim it, or enforce it, does it really exist, or is it just as ephemeral as any other dream? Your rights only exists as far as your border, If you think I am lying look at Sudan, Rwanda, Chechnia, Cambodia, etc etc.
    Rights without the protection and ability to enforce them do not exist. The UN is incapable of enforcing it’s universal rights because it is beholden to it’s fractured core. It just exists to exist. In Europe and Britain there is such a high regard for the UN something I have no understanding of, what has the UN ever done for you? Honestly I want to know cause I can’t think of anything it’s done for me.

    3. Now once more, military justice versus civilian justice, lets say your in the army your marching across a city under declared hostilities, someone lobs a grenade at you, your buddy dies, a small kid bolts from behind a rock, the grenade came from that direction, the kid is carrying a rifle in his arms, what do you do?

    A. call the police, let them come set up a police cordon and ask questions? Call your buddies family and tell him that the cops are on it and in one or two years they can expect a trial maybe if they catch him?
    B. Raise your rifle and fire.

    “The word of a soldier or any other individual shouldn’t be good enough for anyone – evidence to be tested by a jury, and presented by a lawyer is. I’m stunned I have to explain this.”
    But you see it is, in a military situation the word of an officer is law, literally life and death. Than their superiors judge the aftermath and hand out medals or court marshals. It is not the same world it is one in which we normally live. In fact it is such a deadly and bizarre world that us white folk made rules to help decide what was a good war from a bad. They called it the Geneva convention, and in it stated very clearly is the principle that anyone bearing arms on a battle field should be in uniform or be executed for endangering the civilian population. We drew up these rules so that soldiers could maintain some sense of moral bearing. Breaking these rules is grounds for execution. Mixing up these two worlds only get more people killed, trying to fight a war with no death is an interesting fantasy world that some like to live in, however it is not the world we live in.
    As for child soldiers, if the soldier in question is in uniform he is to be treated with the same respect and honor of anyone, however out of uniform the same rules apply regardless of age. It’s a hard rule, it’s kinda cold, but it’s there to discourage the very issue that you are concerned about.

    Frankly I’m surprised I have to mention this.

  9. But eventually you will find a compelling reason to justify it and that is not horrible, horrible is the person that created the situation, horrible is the person that holds peoples lives so cheaply that they would barter with them.

    It’s a wonderful argument, but unfortunately straight out of ’24’, and it’s a straightforward defence of Gitmo. In other words why not keep a whole body of ‘terristssss’ so that when an outrage is about to occur (which 10x out of 10 we’ve so far had opportunities to prevent without resorting to terrorism, but been too incompetent to actually do) we can just waterboard ‘terrisssst x’ and find out what we need to know and get a special forces contingent off at a moment’s notice.

    Are you hearing your own argument? Do you remember how 9/11 actually happened? Are you aware that torture has so far not played any role in preventing terrorism outrages in the US?

  10. this is a throw back conversation but the points still stand.

    calling them something out of a television show does not change them or invalidate them, nor did you aver address the underlying issue of the geneva convention and it’s purpose. So I just have to ask, if you were in charge of investigating muslim militants how would you do it? You have some good ideas but I think fleshing them out would strengthen my understanding and your philosophy.

  11. The bottom line Tim is that it’s fully well documented that existing interrogation methods (ie. not torture) have at all times provided the information and intelligence which has been sought.

    Oh and your issue of the Geneva Convention is wrong.

  12. “Oh and your issue of the Geneva Convention ”
    well you got me there, my training on the geneva convention was from my dad (1st lt in the army, and my best friend in the early nineties. I had asked about it because he had served in the first gulf war so he went into depth. I’d still like to read the fine print, if it’s anything like the treaty against torture, it might not even apply. I was conflating the geneva 3 of which the US is not a signatory of with two.

    Well I’ll rethink my argument with the info I gain.

    on another note I’ll be in london the first week of June and I was wondering if you’d like to meet for a meal and drinks some day? I promise I’m much nicer in person than I seem to be on your blog and I would like to meet you. Though we might disagree sometimes I’m glad you are speaking and posting from your principals and I think that’s noble.

  13. Sounds like a challenge 😉

    I’m as ready to meet you as I am James (that’s a hint to him btw, not a ‘no’ ;))!

  14. /twitter, lol so your posh?

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