Tag Archives: Terrorism

Torture and detention. An invitation for readers to comment…

Here follows an email debate in response to this blog. First the email to me, then my response, then (apologies for the length) his/her response, then my response, etc.
Please, if you’re interested in the arguments, post a comment.


Dear William,

    I’ve taken a look at the blog and regret to say that, although I am in sympathy with the aims and views of Amnesty International, I find the uncritical prejudices expressed in your blog are no substitute for rational argumentation, and believe that your efforts, though they may appeal to some sympathisers (but what is the point of preaching to the converted?) actually help subvert the enterprise of achieving a more just and humane world. I won’t give you an extended defence of what I’ve just said, but will simply raise three questions that you may like to think about, for I think that such reflection will give you second thoughts about the simplistic answers to extremely difficult issues that you seem to favour. Of course, you may not have time to think about these questions and that’s fair enough — nobody can do everything they would like to do. But, if you do decide to think about them, I urge you to think hard and with an open mind. I am not suggesting that I have all the answers.

1) I read the other day about some youths who had set fire to a pony. Is it absolutely clear that mindless, dangerous thugs themselves have a right to life?

2) In Iraqi prisons when Saddam was in power, sadistic jailers would dress up in animal masks while torturing prisoners, frequently torturing them to death. The screams of the prisoners were recorded and played at loud volume throughout each night in the crowded cells of prisoners awaiting torture. The images of Abu Ghraib were truly shocking but there is a difference between the abuse and humiliation handed out by some of the the American guards and the systematic regime of state-approved torture and killing of political enemies presided over by the likes of Saddam and Ceaucescu and Pinochet. There are some (not all) inmates in Guantanamo who approve of all this, who wish to exterminate all apostates and Christians and Jews, who, in the name of religion, will decapitate co-religionists who subscribe to a different version of their faith, who will stone to death adulterers and homosexuals, who will throw acid in the faces of women who refused to be demeaned by dressing in full length black sacks with a slit as a peephole on the world. Who know of networks to which fellow fanatics belong. Who will, if released, kill large numbers of innocent people. What would you do with them?

3) If, GOD FORBID, someone kidnapped your own child, was threatening to sexually abuse and then kill your child, and that somehow you found that person. Would *you yourself* resort to torture in order to extract information about the whereabouts of your child so that you could save her life? 

        Best wishes, (name anonymised)


Dear name anonymised, 

1. “Is it absolutely clear that mindless, dangerous thugs themselves have a right to life?” 

Are you suggesting the death penalty for animal abuse? I’m afraid we’d have to nuke half of Spain this afternoon were that idea enforced. 

If your question is simply, ‘are there circumstances where the death penalty should be applied?’, then we’re dealing with an enormous moral debate that affects, for example, different states of the US. 

In favour: 

You remove the criminal forever from the possibility of committing another crime.

You deliver the ultimate form of justice for the crime he or she committed.

You send a warning to others who may consider committing such a crime.

You save huge sums of the taxpayers’ money in not incarcerating the criminal for a large duration.



Incarceration also (in theory) removes the criminal from crime.

The ultimate justice can never, ever, be reversed. A miscarriage of justice cannot be compensated. The life has been removed. Innocents, as history has shown, have been executed.

If the warning were truly effective, then in the state of Texas there would be no murder. There is. Lots.

More money is spent on the prisoner on death row, which can often be as long as a conventional prison sentence, plus the cost of appeals and investigations.


Personally, I believe the arguments against outweigh the arguments in favour. It is, as you know, far more complicated than that, because, in effect, all states do uphold the death penalty, when it comes to warfare, shoot-outs with the police, immediate security risk (apprehension of a fugitive bomber in an airport, for example), etc. Therefore the arguments above are themselves related only to court processes involving judge or jury. When the two areas are mixed, then problems arise. This was the situation when Rumsfeld said that the Gitmo detainees ‘were the ones the bombs missed’, which effectively delivers the verdict of execution upon them prior to their incarceration, and as such, they have no rights as they shouldn’t, in fact, be alive. 


2. “The images of Abu Ghraib were truly shocking but there is a difference between the abuse and humiliation handed out by some of the American guards and the systematic regime of state-approved torture and killing of political enemies presided over by the likes of Saddam and Ceaucescu and Pinochet.” 

The utter brutality of the Saddam regime is widely known and widely abhorred, as is the brutality of the Khmer Rouge, the Nazis, etc. That this historical reality can be used to mitigate systematic abuse of another ‘liberator’ system holds no water. 

Bob stole £10 from Gavin. I steal £5 from Bob. Therefore a) I’m delivering justice to Gavin and b) my robbery is ok because it’s not as much as Bob’s. 

Furthermore, assuming that the abuse was handed out only by some of the American guards firstly shows a scant reading of the sheer volume of detainees held without charge and abused throughout scores of CIA detention facilities around the world, and overlooks the shocking paper trail that leads to the White House and Pentagon lawyers (Yoo, Gonzales, etc.) who tweaked legal documents to allow for precisely the systematic abuse that has taken place under the Bush administration. As Philippe Sands, in Torture Team, suggests, it really, really is not just ‘a few bad apples’. 

If there are Gitmo detainees (and I’m sure there are) “who wish to exterminate all apostates and Christians and Jews, who, in the name of religion, will decapitate co-religionists who subscribe to a different version of their faith” etc., what is possibly achieved by banging them up in a now widely publicized prison, alongside numerous innocents, having contravened international laws and treaties of extradition, abuse, Geneva Conventions, habeas corpus, etc.? What is achieved aside from hardening the detainees’ resolve, making them into martyrs, and converting more to their cause in the name of their own justice? 

“Who will, if released, kill large numbers of innocent people.” To detain people preemptively is highly problematic. The whole brouhaha about how many days a terror-suspect can be held in Britain hung precisely on this concept. If there is no evidence, but only suspicion, then justice effectively becomes a process of divination. If there is evidence, then there are criminal courts a-plenty that are more than equipped to try and to convict the criminal. As with so many problematic issues here, there is also the question of a precedent. If you detain someone without trial and indefinitely on suspicion, then clearly they are not going to commit a criminal act. So the operation is successful and self-fulfilling. So let’s make it more domestic. Perhaps I am planning to buy some heroin. Should I be detained? (Bad example – I’d probably be able to buy heroin far easier in detention!). I might, whilst driving, park on a double-yellow line. Should I be prevented from driving? This is not a facetious argument. If justice related to ‘terror’ is considered an exception to the justice system of the UK and the US, then, as we’ve already seen, the margin for what constitutes terror (or incitement to terror) can be widened and widened and widened…


3. You and I discussed a few months ago the relationship between philosophy as an intellectual exercise, and as a pragmatic application upon reality. Your last point is the brother of the ‘ticking bomb scenario’ and is equally fraught with complications. I’m quite certain that if I had my hands on the man who had kidnapped my child, I’d want to gouge his frigging eyes out and stomp on his head. It might, indeed, give me some satisfaction. However, so many predicates would need to be fulfilled for the situation that you outline to arise.

I must know beyond doubt that he is the captor, and therefore I must know that he knows the whereabouts of my captive child. I must know that the police have investigated and have not found the child. I must know that police interrogators, who are trained to extract information, have failed to make the bugger talk. I must, therefore, have police approval for my form of interrogation, (or, a la Bruce Willis, I must be operating ‘outside the law, a lone maverick intent on revealing the truth and delivering justice’). I must restrain myself so that my treatment of him is not simply revenge, but is strategic in order to extract the information. Therefore I must be trained in the act of harsh interrogation techniques. I must, I assume, have a doctor on hand who can keep check on the fella so that I don’t beat him senseless or cause organ failure (dead men, alas, don’t talk). 

Lastly, who’s to say that this treatment would make him talk? 

I’m not being pernickety, but really the situation you describe is highly improbable. And if it were to arise, and all those predicates are met, and I do give the man the thumb-screws, and he does talk, and I do rescue my child, a) the case is unlike any of the cases of detention that I describe in the blog, and b) it is not and cannot become systematic. 

Therefore, aside from the animal satisfaction of revenge or sadism, I am unable to find a single justifying argument for the use of torture. Indeed, I find powerful and compelling evidence to suggest that the use of torture has so many negative attributes as to constitute a boon for the enemy. 

Best wishes, 



Dear William,
    Thanks for your very detailed reply. My worry about your blog is that comes over as blinkered and glib and a bit gung-ho, and someone not antecedently sympathetic to your position would not be moved. My view is that, as academics, we have a duty to try and convert people to a better way of thinking and a more humane moral outlook (a big ask, I know) and what’s required for that is not the parading of one’s own prejudices, but careful argument — of exactly the sort you have provided in your reply. I’m not entirely in agreement with your response and have indicated as such with asterisked comments, below.
Best wishes, (name anonymised)
Hi (name anonymised), 

May I just respond to a couple of your comments? 

The blog as ‘blinkered, glib and a bit gung-ho’ and a space ‘parading of one’s own prejudices’ 

The last matter first. Is it a prejudice to assert that torture is wrong? If so, fine. On the majority of the posts, I attempt to analyse the cases in which torture is proposed as being justifiable, and attempt to counter the arguments. The prejudice part of this is that I have an a priori verdict and attempt to justify it through my argument. Point taken. I am, however, perfectly prepared to find a convincing argument that would have me change this opinion. Am I prejudiced on other matters? I’ll answer that below. 

Glib. I take glib to mean making cheap and throwaway comments. I have tried to work through the arguments in order to arrive at a conclusion. I am, as you’ve seen, perfectly prepared to debate the arguments and the conclusions. In fact, I attempt to argue against comments that others make that I deem to be glib.

Gung-ho. I have no idea what you’re referring to here. 

The Rumsfeld comment.
I agree, “Rumsfeld is in no position to deliver a judicial verdict”.

He has delivered such verdicts though, repeatedly, and this has had an enormous impact on the status of the detainees. And I quite agree, the fact that folk assumed OJ guilty shouldn’t take away any of his rights. Detainees in numerous detention camps have scarcely any internationally recognized rights. It seems we are in perfect agreement on this one. 

The issue of relative punishment. I also agree, and state as such.

“Every legal system with which I’m familiar recognizes differences in magnitude”.
My example was that the coalition intervention was to ‘liberate’ the Iraqis from the dictator, and only achieved this at an enormous, highly punitive, and grossly destructive cost. Just yesterday (Sunday) morning a Radio 4 reporter from Baghdad was commenting on the utter destruction of the entire Iraqi infrastructure, the stagnant recovery, the poverty, disease, crime etc. A Baghdad interviewee said that the deaths from Saddam were appalling, but that the deaths since 2003 have been hard to fathom. I think that whilst you and I might agree that the mission was one of liberation, it quite clearly has not been successful. Now is not the time to go through the hundreds of reports, op eds, articles, books, etc. that attest to the fact that there were ulterior motives beyond ‘freedom and liberation’ behind the invasion of Iraq. 

“Right, but it’s one thing to play the game of knocking politicians and quite another to think of some constructive alternative that you would implement were you in their position of power, see below”.

I am not in a position of power, nor do I want to be. However, that does not disqualify me from commenting on the situation. This is what being informed is about, and I would hate to be either in utter darkness about current affairs, or to be unwilling to make any comments because I’m not qualified. We are all qualified. I have read numerous reports and books (most of them acknowledged in the blog) about the system of detention in Gitmo. Stafford-Smith, Begg, David Rose, Erik Saar, Mahvish Khan, Andy Worthington, and many others, with professional attachments to the situation, have suggested that the system is flawed, illegal and counter-productive. As such my question remains:

“what is possibly achieved by banging them up in a now widely publicized prison, alongside numerous innocents, having contravened international laws and treaties of extradition, abuse, Geneva Conventions, habeas corpus, etc.? What is achieved aside from hardening the detainees’ resolve, making them into martyrs, and converting more to their cause in the name of their own justice?”

 On the matter of preventative detention, there may be evidence sufficient to suspect someone, but not sufficient to convict. Whilst most legal systems (that I’m aware of) have a limit on how long someone can be detained, it is clearly a problematic issue, and a risk that every legal system must take into account. In the case of Gitmo and other facilities, it is acknowledged even by the US officials, that the vast majority are innocent – indeed many are cleared but remain in captivity. Quite evidently hundreds have been swept up in a net for the sake of a suspicious few. Those few are not even put through due process of law, but are subject to torture, military commissions, secret evidence, etc. It is not sustainable in any situation to detain someone indefinitely on the suspicion that they may commit a crime. Ultimately, evidence needs to be provided or the person must be released. One thing was the debate here in the UK over how many days, another thing is holding someone, without trial, for 7 years… I fully agree with you: “The question then becomes only how much time is reasonable. The different issue you raise of pre-punishment is philosophically interesting, and there has been some good discussion of it in the literature.” 

Lastly, the child/kidnap/torture case. 

I find your insistence on this matter disturbing. I clearly state that yes, if I had this bastard in my hands I’d want to hurt him. I state that without qualm. However, I attempt to make it abundantly clear that this situation is so improbable as to be only an intellectual exercise. Furthermore, and importantly, it is totally unlike any of the cases of abuse or torture documented in the latest conflicts. I’m not ‘weaseling out’ of anything. I’m stating that this situation is as improbable as being in a trolley with two paths, one which will kill 3 people, one which will kill 2 (or any of the other variations). How, aside from in intellectual theory, would I (or anyone) find themselves in such a ‘must torture or child will die’ predicament? It simply makes no sense to me. I also fully agreed with you, that, in the improbable event of this situation arising, I would do whatever I could to get the info, but, to repeat, this is not related to the situations presented, nor can it be systematic: 

“I’m not being pernickety, but really the situation you describe is highly improbable. And if it were to arise, and all those predicates are met, and I do give the man the thumb-screws, and he does talk, and I do rescue my child, a) the case is unlike any of the cases of detention that I describe in the blog, and b) it is not and cannot become systematic.”

 Saludos cordials, 



Dear William   

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not an advocate of torture. But I do think that there may be unusual and extreme situations where the absolute dictum ‘Torture is always wrong’ needs to be questioned. I also think that the ‘Death to the Great Satan’ approach to political discussion is unlikely to do justice to the complexity of many situations. I’m not saying that you take this approach, but it’s probably correct that most of the reading you do on subjects like Gitmo are taking a position that you antecedently endorse, so that’s not much of a learning experience and may tend to give you a one-sided picture. These are really difficult issues and it is important to apprise oneself of the best arguments on each side. One of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen on telly was Andrew Marr, on his Sunday morning show, constantly interrupting and shouting down a woman whom he was supposed to be interviewing jut because she was trying to explain the American position. He obviously had it in his mind that she was trying to defend the indefensible, so he just did not want to listen, or to give viewers the opportunity to listen.

Best wishes, (name anonymised)


Hi (name anonymised), 

“But I do think that there may be unusual and extreme situations where the absolute dictum ‘Torture is always wrong’ needs to be questioned.” 

That’s precisely what the blog is about. Precisely to analyse this question. That’s what the post about Zizek is about. 

I fully agree about the Andrew Marr business.

Hasta pronto,



(from William again)

Dear (name anonymised)

Good talking to you face to face. You’ve given me food for thought not only in relation to the moral obligation of intervention, but in relation to the options available to Tony Blair back in 2003…

By the way, further to our chat, here’s the link to my argumentation against the ticking bomb: 


Hasta pronto,



Dear William,

    I much prefer talking to you than reading your blogs. This one is full of rhetoric, hyperbole and gratuitously emotive expression; it contains assumptions that a thoughtful opponent simply would not share. Recently there have been convictions of individuals for whom there is strong evidence that they were planning serious terrorist attacks imminently on targets they had reconnoitred. There are the first four conditions of your ‘ticking bomb’ scenario satisfied right there. In fact, those conditions could be used to draft legislation: Torture is legally permissible only when the following eight conditions are satisfied….. This is like the recent legislation on assisted suicide — it’s allowed only if a number of stringent conditions are met, and there is no suggestion that they will never simultaneously be met.

    An anti-Iraq-war play by David Hare ran in London a few years ago. It gave the audiences consisting of the Hampstead set and other right-on opponents of the government the opportunity for mutual admiration and a comunal self-satisfied sneer at poiliticians. But, if it only massaged egos, confirmed people in views that they already held, made them feel smug and superior and allowed them to parade their pseudo-humanitarian credentials, what was the point of it? My own view is that, by and large, such people are inhumane and racist. They have no conception of what it is like to live in constant fear of arbitrary arrest and execution by psychopathic state-licensed thugs and, even if they did, they would not be in favour of our intervening because, of course, the  saving the lives of hundreds or thousands of Iraqis does not justify the sacrifice of one of ‘our’ lads. It is for similar reasons that craven leaders of nations, more interested in securing their political futures than doing the right thing, declined to support the resolution to invade, NOT because they had any deep insight into how the war was likely to unfold. Had they participated, the war would have unfolded very differently.

        Best wishes, (name anonymised)


Dear (name anonymised),

I very much enjoyed our chat, and, as I said yesterday, I certainly am prepared to consider a) the moral obligation of intervention and b) the options available for Blair back in 2003. 

However, I find it unsettling that you accuse me of prejudice, and then glibly talk of ‘the Hampstead set and other right-on opponents of the government’ who go to the play in order to massage their egos and to feel ‘smug and superior’.

 Whilst I am fully aware of some of the contradictions involved in a) criticising the actions of government whilst taking no active part in any governance oneself, and b) espousing pseudo-socialist values from a plush 5-story Hamsptead town house, it seems absurd to me to make such assumptions about the motives of the audience of a play.

 Who, in your eyes, would be a legitimate opponent of the government (i.e. not simply seeking “mutual admiration and a communal self-satisfied sneer at politicians”?) Where must these people live? What must their social status be?

And how are “their pseudo-humanitarian credentials” different from yours, in blindly (and I mean that, as you asserted that intervention is an unquestioning moral duty) assuming that western-style democracy must be delivered to other nations down the barrel of a gun, irrespective of the horrendous fall-out of such endeavours? Why, seriously, were we not treated as liberators in Iraq? Why were folk upset at their country being, in the words of Bush, ‘bombed back to the Stone Age’? Did the UN Security Council vote against invasion because they were all yellow-bellied cowards? Did Zapatero withdraw his Spanish troops because he was racist? Whilst you suggest that my blog may be blinkered, I find your reduction of the events to such simplistic good vs. bad arguments overtly blinkered.

On the matter of torture, you assert that “those conditions could be used to draft legislation: Torture is legally permissible only when the following eight conditions are satisfied”. Well, this is precisely Dershowitz’s argument, that with the conditions met, a torture warrant could be issued. This is precisely what I attempt to refute in the post.

Some considerations of this that I didn’t go into in the original post. What if you didn’t have the bomber himself but you had his son. Somehow you had the bomber on the phone, or watching on a screen. Would you torture his son so as to make him reveal the bomb? As Stafford-Smith explores in his interview with torture theoretician Professor Levin: ‘You’re in the situation where the perpetrator knows where the ticking bomb is. The way you’re going to get him to talk is you’re going to torture his five-year-old, would you do that?’ He then further asks: ‘What proportion of people are we willing to torture erroneously, because we just got it wrong, before that invalidates the whole process of torture?’ (Bad Men: 28)

The leap between holding a suspect and torturing a suspect is, and must remain, large. Despite considering the possible scenario, and despite attempting to work through the arguments (admittedly, with ‘gratuitously emotive expression’), I cannot accept the logic for accepting torture. If the scenario was possible, one would assume that it would have occurred at least once. Stafford-Smith interviews Professor Levin, Professor Dershowitz, Assistant Secretary of Defense during Reagan, Richard Perle and retired Marine Corps officer, Big Bill Cowan, all of whom advocate the judicious use of torture. Not one of them could cite a case in which all those predicates had been satisfied. Perle and Cowan, indeed, admit that the enemy is empowered by the US’s use of torture. 

Hasta pronto,



Dear William,

    My information about the constitution of the audience at David Hare’s play come from a theatre critic who was there, though I could have predicted it a priori. And please let me say that I do not, repeat not, classify *you* as a champagne socialist — I rather suspect that you, like me, are a socialist, simpliciter.

    Like Stephen Fry, I do think that unconstructive whingeing at government policy is a British disease, but, of course, I do not think that all the policies of the present government (which I helped elect) are beyond reproach. When I judge a policy, I try to think not of how it affects me but of how it affects the broader community, and I try to inform myself on the issues so that I won’t be merely ignorantly mouthing prejudice — I believe that you are no different from me in this respect.. Opposition to a policy from this perspective is, I think, entirely proper and is not, of course, restricted to members of any particular social class. Unfortunately, for most people, research on an issue does not take them much beyond what they read in the papers or see on telly, and I think current standards of reporting in the media are atrocious. I’m sure you know how it works: a reporter makes up a story that he thinks will excite readers’ interest, e.g. ‘Brown is weak and inept’. People believe what they read. Reporters then do some interviews and — surprise, surprise — now find members of the public saying that Brown is inept. So the next day it’s ‘A recent poll has revealed that 74% of the British public believe that Brown is inept’. By this process, some proposition for which there was initially absolutely no evidence is now made true.

    Whoever contended that ‘western-style democracy must be delivered to other nations down the barrel of a gun, irrespective of the horrendous fall-out of such endeavours’ ? I remember saying to you that pragmatic consideration have to be brought to bear on whether or not to intervene (you’d be ill-advised to try it on China) and I agreed with you that, before undertaking any such action, it is a moral imperative to estimate ‘fall-out’ as accurately as possible. Western democracy may not be the best political set-up for all societies (though it would be better for Burma than what they’ve currently got, wouldn’t you agree?) but what I do object to is people who say things like ‘East Asians belong to a different culture where human rights are not so important to them.’.

    I think you missed my point about conditions under which torture is legitimate. You said that torture is never legitimate because (at least) 8 conditions would need to hold, and you doubted whether those conditions would ever be simultaneously saisfied. Another way of putting that is to say that torture is permissible only if those 8 or so conditions are simultaneously present. Then your opponent will say that your view that those 8 conditions will never actually simultaneously be met betrays an ostrich mentality. I tried to sketch for you one case where they would be. And it’s not difficult to imagine that, at some time in the near future, the police have incontrovertible evidence that a bomb has been planted on an airplane that has now taken off. They have got hold of the perpetrator and need to know from him, urgently, where the bomb is hidden. To think that there will *never* be such cases is mere wishful thinking and I suspect that relatives of the victims of London, Madrid, Bali do not share such optimism.

    The sort of cases you contrive in your last two paragraphs are very interesting and would make excellent topics for discussion in a moral philosophy class. They need to be thought about very carefully.

        Best wishes (name anonymised)


Hi (name anonymised), 

Thanks for this response. We actually see eye to eye on most of the issues here. Above all we both agree that spouting slogans, whether supporting or criticising government actions, without being informed other than from tabloid headlines, leads to the angry and destructive mentality amongst so many. 

On the morality of intervention, I agree on principle but have tremendous doubts about the application. In the same way that if justice is not for all then it’s effectively for none (the case of Polanski is interesting here), it unsettles me that proposals to overthrow a tyrannical regime always come alongside policies of supporting another. This has been the case in conflicts throughout the world. We mentioned Pinochet, for example, who was fully bankrolled and supported militarily by the US and the UK. As long as the Saudi royal family continues to buy our arms, we offer no criticism of their regime. The pragmatic aspect of what you were outlining (i.e. we wouldn’t invade China) effectively means we’ll only regime-change those regimes that we know we’ll overthrow or those regimes who buy their arms from other suppliers… This pragmatism, I feel, annuls any convincing morality. 

On a final note concerning the ticking bomb, I definitively did not say that torture is not applicable because the conditions to be met are improbable. In the post (and others) I state quite clearly that proposing these conditions is already stepping down from a moral consensus. ‘We do not torture’ is inscribed in internationally signed conventions and treaties. Therefore, even prior to analysing the exceptional circumstances, you’ve opted out of that position. THEN, when you look at the arguments, you see them to be highly improbable, illogical, unrelated to any historical case, and, morally suspect. Therefore the argument of the improbability is simply to say ‘ok, so you want to find room for torture, ok, show me how it works. Uh-huh, ok, I see, under those OUTLANDISH circumstances. Has that ever happened? How do you know the torture would produce the intel? Who would do the torture? How would he have been trained? Who would train him? How do you know the suspect is the right guy? Should we torture the suspect’s son or ageing mother? How do you prevent martyrdom? Would you offer counseling for the torturer as well as the tortured? How do you guarantee that torture is applied only under these circumstances? Who judges these conditions to have been met? Who could grant or revoke the torture license? Would we accept that the enemy might also, legitimately, use this torture license? Etc. etc. etc.’ 

Really, there are so, so many negatives to the one shaky and unlikely positive of ‘defusing the ticking bomb’, that I feel it could never be written into any legislation – especially not some dodgy torture license… 

Hasta pronto, 


Truth commission? – ‘This is not Latin America!’

Garzón aviva la causa de Guantánamo. El juez desoye al fiscal y apremia a Estados Unidos para que aporte información. Acepta otras tres acusaciones populares (Público.es).

What a tangled web: the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, the Dirty War in Argentina, property scams and political corruption in Marbella, the political violence of Henry Kissinger, the atrocities of Pinochet, the abuses at Guantánamo, and the Bush Six: Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Douglas Feith, William Haynes II, Jay Bybee, and David Addington…

These diverse episodes of history all come together in a dance macabre under the direction of Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón.

This may be now slightly old news, but it’s such a complex and ever-changing story that a little history gives it some grounding. Who is Garzón?

Garzón, battle-scarred Spanish judge, has in his time filed charges of genocide against Argentine military officers over the disappearance of Spanish citizens during Argentina’s 1976-1983 ‘Dirty War’, resulting in convictions.

His investigations led to the conviction of a Spanish PSOE minister under Felipe González, as head of the GAL clandestine counter-terrorism organisation (death squads clumsily fighting ETA).

His investigations have also led to the conviction of ETA terrorists.

He investigated the larger-than-life gangster and Marbella property developer-cum-mayor Jesús Gil.

He led investigations into extra judiciary executions during Franco’s regime, and directed the exhumation of unmarked mass graves, one of them believed to have contained the remains of García Lorca.

Along with certain Chileans, Garzón has repeatedly declared his interest in prosecuting Henry Kissinger for his involvement (direction) in setting up Operation Condor, the international intelligence-sharing network (or terror organisation) initiated in the Southern Cone in 1975.

He has investigated Islamic terrorists operating in Spain, as well as major drug traffickers.

He is probably best known as the investigating magistrate who issued the precedent-setting arrest warrant for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (and dear friend of Thatcher’s) in 1998 while he was undergoing treatment in a London hospital.

He has now publicly opened filed criminal charges against officials of the Bush administration.

Spanish court opens investigation of Guantánamo torture allegations (Guardian, 29/04/09).

The Bush Six to Be Indicted (Scott Horton in The Daily Beast)

Spanish Judge Resumes Torture Case Against Six Senior Bush Lawyers (Andy Worthington in HuffPost 08/09/09)

Now, this filing came only a few weeks after Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy called for a thorough investigation, proposing “a truth and reconciliation commission”, which was applauded by hundreds of individuals and organisations, such as Human Rights First.

Similarly, Ricardo Sanchez, former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq who retired over the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, back in June, called ‘for a truth commission to investigate Bush-era policies behind the abuse and controversial interrogations of detainees.’ (CNN, 02/06/09) “Until America can really understand what has happened and look at it objectively and truthfully, we will still continue to be mired in the past,” Sanchez said. “We’ve got to learn the lessons and never go this way again.” (CNN)

The wonderful response of Republican Senator Arlen Specter to Leahy says it all:

“If every administration started to re-examine what every prior administration did, there would be no end to it. This is not Latin America.” (CNN Transcripts)

A Truth Commission…

Pinochet and Chile. Argentina. El Salvador. Guatemala. Panama. Peru…

Good grief, these places are full of Hispanics! They’re not like us…

Is this the biggest insult that could be made to a US politician? Kissinger must have felt the same just before the possible criminal charges against him were sidelined by 11th September 2001. It’s one thing to train those mustachioed Latins in the use of torture (see School of the Americas), it’s quite another thing to be likened to one.

Will Eric Holder lead a full investigation into the CIA abuses? Will it go all the way up the chain of command? Will it lead to prosecutions? Why is Obama so reluctant ‘to look back’?

Garzón was unable to extradite Pinochet. Maybe he’ll have better luck this time…

Torture prohibition as moral absolute

Žižek drives a hard bargain:

In a way, those who refuse to advocate torture outright but still accept it as a legitimate topic of debate are more dangerous than those who explicitly endorse it. Morality is never just a matter of individual conscience. It thrives only if it is sustained by what Hegel called “objective spirit,” the set of unwritten rules that form the background of every individual’s activity, telling us what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.

For example, a clear sign of progress in Western society is that one does not need to argue against rape: it is “dogmatically” clear to everyone that rape is wrong. If someone were to advocate the legitimacy of rape, he would appear so ridiculous as to disqualify himself from any further consideration. And the same should hold for torture.

Knight of the Living Dead, NYTimes March 24, 2007

 So we need dogma. That’s all well and good, but where does that position one in relation to the torture advocate who is attempting to propose rational arguments for the use of torture?

‘Sorry – we don’t discuss this.’

‘You’re wrong. End of story.’

‘I’m not listening – LALALALALALALA – I can’t hear you.’

 If torture is a moral absolute, then surely this position would have been arrived at through a process of examination and assessment of the argument, not an a priori conclusion? As such, unless the arguments themselves were flimsy (they’re not), one should still be perfectly able to take on the torture advocate in debate and, without rhetoric or overtly emotive tactics, justify why the moral absolute is indeed a moral absolute.

 Ruth Blakeley, of the University of Kent, in her powerful article ‘Why torture?’, outlines 3 assumptions behind the application of torture by both liberal and authoritarian states: security, stability and legitimacy.

The security model reflects the dominant claims made about torture by authoritarian and liberal states alike – that its function is to obtain intelligence to defeat security threats. The stability model accounts for torture when it is used in authoritarian states, but often sponsored by external liberal elites, as a method to instil fear, to deter potential and actual political opposition among the population. This is intended to help protect the interests of elite groups. The legitimacy model accounts for the ways in which state officials, usually from liberal states, seek, on the one hand, to secure the right to use torture, based on the assignment of specific identities of themselves – as legitimate – and of those against whom they wish to use torture – as illegitimate. On the other hand, claiming the right to use torture is intended to secure those specific identities, which are never fixed. (Blakeley: 374)

 Can there be any justification for any of these assumptions?


In conversation the other day with a retired British Army officer who had served in intelligence operations during the Cold War and in Northern Ireland, I asked whether, in to his knowledge, torture has ever been effective in gaining reliable intelligence. ‘Well’, was his response, ‘the Soviets employed psychoactive drugs in order to discombobulate the prisoner, who would often start to babble and would thus betray himself. The British in Northern Ireland [and I’m not sure if he was referring to the army, the police, or secret services] tended to break down a prisoner through sleep deprivation. An interrogation would commence, and when the interrogator tired he would be replaced by another, and so on. Many IRA suspects betrayed the whereabouts of their comrades through this tactic.’

So – is it effective – well, undeniably, intel is gained.
And reliable – well, some of it, I suppose is reliable.

The problems with this, though, are manifold.

If you have the wrong man, then no amount of interrogation (harsh or otherwise) is going to produce valuable intel.

If the man babbles because his brain is fried (either through pain, psychoactive compounds or sleep deprivation), then reliable information is surely going to be shot through with incoherence and thoroughly unreliable info. As such, only years of enquiry or inspired divination will be able to sort the wheat from the chaff.

He’ll also, as is well documented, say whatever he believes the interrogator wants him to say in order to stop the pain. ‘Give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders’ (Jesse Ventura). This, shockingly, was the case of the intel gained from the enhanced interrogation of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, whose admissions were only discredited by the CIA after Bush et. al. cited him in their allegations of the ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in their justification for invasion.

Furthermore, what are the guarantees that the alleged ‘reliable intel’ gained through torture could not have been gained through more empathetic, less brutal, techniques? The ex army officer explained that, despite evidence to the contrary, the British are still the world’s most accomplished practitioners of the cross-examination style interrogation. He cited a British interrogator during the Cold War, upon whom John le Carré based some of his interrogation sequences, who was the absolute master at examining the suspect, questioning the story, leading the suspect, through brilliant Rumpole-of-the-Bailey-style eloquence and logic, to betray himself.

Without even going into depth about the horrific physical and emotional chronic pain that the torture victim (and the torturer) suffer as a result of torture, and without discussing the wider implications with regard the victim’s family and society at large, it needs to be reinforced that the justification for the use of torture as a means of gaining reliable intelligence is inherently flawed, as no positive case could be taken in isolation of numerous negative cases.

That’s to say – let’s imagine the extreme case in which a suspect gives up information that leads to the annulment of a security risk or the revelation of a terror cell (or some other ‘positive’ outcome). It is impossible to consider this situation in isolation of scores of occasions in which torture was employed with the same aims in which a) the suspect was innocent, b) he gave misleading information such as naming innocents, c) he simply gave information that he believed the interrogators wished for, d) he became unconscious or died, e) as such a steely-nerved evildoer he continued to remain silent, f) and so on and so on…

It would be impossible to assert that torture was used only for the acquisition of reliable intel without also admitting the collateral damage produced from torture where, for the reasons stated, reliable intel was not acquired. Therefore, even in the ‘reliable intel’ argument, we’re dealing with a set of prerequisites almost as improbable as in the ticking-bomb scenario, which I argue against in another post. Furthermore, once you’re using the ‘reliable intel’ as a justification, the outcome invariably will be in order to defuse a potential catastrophe. Therefore, the argument rapidly morphs into the ticking-bomb scenario anyway. Again, so improbable as to be impossible.

Last of all – at this present moment the only people claiming that the techniques have been effective are either right-wing radio nuts like Glen Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, or are the war architects themselves, like Cheney. Following the stratospheric levels of duplicity, secrecy, cover-ups, document shreddings, legal jiggerypokery, crafty memos and sly policies – who in their right mind would believe such a man?

And if you then compare Cheney’s claim that reliable intel was gained, with, for instance, any of the reports by Stafford-Smith, Erik Saar, Philippe Sands, Mahvish Khan, or any of the testimonies by detainees, FBI agents, marines, military guards, military police, translators, interrogators, chaplains, etc. all held at the The Guantánamo Testimonials Project – WHO ARE YOU GOING TO BELIEVE?



‘Well,’ said the ex army officer, ‘surely some nations have gained a form of stability through the use and the threat of imprisonment, torture and disappearance. Pinochet remained in power for nearly two decades, Chairman Mao for far longer. But is it a type of stability you want?’

Of course, and this now enters the old philosophical question of law: if the penalty for parking on a double-yellow line were death, would people park on a double-yellow line? If the answer is no, then is it an effective law? If stability (for what it’s worth) is achieved through such brutal measures, does it really constitute stability? I believe not.



This is the most absurd of all of these assumptions, and is akin to the Orwellian double-speak (and double-think) endemic in the War of Terror. Bombing to bring peace through Operation Enduring Freedom, killing in order to save, destroying in order to preserve, incarcerating without trial, abusing and even killing detainees in order to ‘Defend Freedom, Sir!’


To conclude.

At the beginning of my musings on torture, I felt that perhaps if there had been a situation in which reliable intelligence had been gained through torture then there would be a chink in the armour of the torture opponents. We would have to say that ‘ok, so you have shown me a situation in which torture was used as an absolute one-off, and, in this case it proved successful in achieving intel that led to the dismantling of a terror network. However, despite this, I am not prepared to accept the legitimacy of such means, and I still oppose the gathering of intelligence through these means. I am, therefore, prepared to sacrifice that intel so as not to condone torture’.

I now believe that statement to be false, as, simply, such an isolated situation seems to me utterly improbable.

 I believe, therefore, that we don’t need to retreat into dogmatic silence in the defence of a moral absolute. Indeed I would go so far as to suggest that such absence of reasonable and intellectual argument would serve only to allow the proponents of torture to believe they have a valid point. They don’t. Each one of the arguments, I believe, can be successfully and convincingly dismantled.

Rendition, secret detention and the absence of habeas continue wholesale under Obama

Rather than attempt to summarise his article, here is Andy Worthington’s latest piece concerning Bagram: Obama Brings Guantánamo And Rendition To Bagram (And Not The Geneva Conventions)

For those pressed for time, here is Andy’s poignant conclusion:

The upshot of all this is disastrous for those who hoped that President Obama would not only accept, but would positively embrace the opportunity to return to the laws that existed regarding the capture and detention of prisoners, before they were so comprehensively dismissed by the Bush administration. Far from reassuring the world that there are only two acceptable methods for holding people in detention — either as criminal suspects, to be put forward for trials in federal court, or as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions — Obama has chosen instead to continue to operate outside the law, implementing Guantánamo-style tribunals at Bagram, and acknowledging that he wants the US courts to remain excluded because he is using Bagram as a prison for terror suspects “rendered” from around the world.

To gauge quite how disastrous this news is, imagine how former Vice President Dick Cheney is responding to it. Yes, that is indeed a smile playing over the lips of the architect of America’s wholesale flight from the law in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. “I told you so,” he mutters contentedly … 

The ‘ticking bomb scenario’ and its tortured logic

Despite the fact that for more than half a century the argument of the ‘ticking bomb scenario’ has been shown to be ridiculous and utterly contrary to reality, it seems that the very neatness of its twisted logic ensures its perpetuation by those sympathetic to the use of torture. Such neatness, embroiled with a crass yet effective emotive sting, likewise ensures that those who oppose torture are regularly cast as favouring the “rights” of one murderous terrorist over the lives of millions of innocent citizens.

We all know the argument so no need to repeat it here. If not known, the tenets of the scenario are detailed in the document Defusing the Ticking Bomb Scenario. Why we must say No to torture, always, published by the Association for the Prevention of Torture

Opponents of the scenario invariably highlight the immense number of assumptions that need to be made regarding the particular ‘exceptional’ circumstance. Indeed, the sheer quantity of these outlandish predicates are sufficient to destroy the probability of the event ever arising. However, before even attacking its hollow argument, one must first understand that by simply proposing the scenario, the proposer has already opposed a repeatedly endorsed consensual prohibition, has therefore opted out of a moral absolute. Could we, therefore, expect an exceptional circumstance wherein genocide is permissible, wherein slavery is permissible? Or, as Žižek suggests, could we expect an exceptional circumstance wherein rape is permissible?

As for the actual assumptions of the argument, the Association for the Prevention of Torture, in the document cited above, outlines their monstrously unrealistic nature:

The ticking bomb is based on a number of assumptions, some of which may be hidden or only implied when it is first presented. These hidden assumptions should be exposed. For instance, the ticking bomb scenario typically supposes certainty, or near certainty, as to all of the following:

  1. A specific planned attack is known to exist.
  2. The attack will happen within a very short time (it is “imminent”).
  3. The attack will kill a large number of people.
  4. The person in custody is a perpetrator of the attack.
  5. The person has information that will prevent the attack.
  6. Torturing the person will obtain the information in time to prevent the attack.
  7. No other means exist that might get the information in time.
  8. No other action could be taken to avoid the harm.

The scenario also assumes:

  1. The motive of the torturer is to get information, with the genuine intention of saving lives, and nothing more.
  2. It is an isolated situation, not often to be repeated.

The document continues to expose the dangerous fallacies and improbability in each one of the assumptions.

The problem, as I see it, is that this argument works extremely well in a chat-show, rapid interview, scaremongering, media environment where people are firstly not given time or space to work through their arguments, and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, are cowed into not being labelled a terrorist-sympathiser, a liberal pansy, a traitor to the nation, etc.

Furthermore, the scenario is presented as a two-path predicament akin to the philosophical ‘trolley problem’ – i.e. you’ve two alternatives and you must make choose one: do you a) torture the captive or b) not torture and allow hundreds/thousands/millions to die.

Such a predicament can arise in reality. About ten years ago I read Nicholas Montserrat’s harrowing novel set in the 2nd World War about the Atlantic convoys, The Cruel Sea. The skipper of a Royal Navy corvette, attempting to manoeuvre his ship towards survivors from a torpedoed convoy vessel, is compelled to drop a depth charge into the oily waters right amidst the swimmers, because he believes the U-boat is still present and its destruction would obviously save other vessels of the fleet. Although the account is fictional, it does not seem too far-fetched.

It is similarly alleged that Churchill’s government had cracked the German code and knew of the imminent bombing of Coventry but did not alert the city so as not to reveal to the Germans that they had cracked the code. Again, I believe this allegation is contested, but it shows a probable, if not genuine, predicament.

The ‘ticking bomb scenario’ is unlike this split-path argument, as so many wholly improbable predicates need to be satisfied before the final two choices are presented. Furthermore, owing to moral opposition of the concept of torture, the putative subject would have chosen other paths even if certain of those prerequisites had obtained, and thus the final decision point would never have been reached.

Lastly, let’s not overlook the fact that even were the improbable event to arise, one would have to ask ‘who does the torture?’ Obviously one wouldn’t want an amateur doing the job, nor would one want some testosterone-filled policeman handpicked for his excellent treatment of the G20 protestors. One would want a competent, calm and experienced torturer who is best qualified to get the results and save the multitude. How would such a person gain his knowledge? Would he (or she) have to attend the CIA School of the Americas? Would it be theory-based training only, or could they gain some practise in the field?

And so on…

From whatever way you look at it, it is a logically bankrupt argument in addition to its moral and ethical bankruptcy.

Yet for its covert, aggressive and distorted logic, it will continue to be wheeled out before a docile audience in the service of any system that has been caught adding a turn to the thumbscrews…

Cheney – investigation into torture ‘offends the hell out of me’

Dick Cheney: Torture investigation ‘offends the hell out of me’

Astonishing stuff. Torture doesn’t bother Cheney in the least, but investigations into torture are an abomination, that set a terrible, terrible precedent. The irony of his claims is stark, even down to his use of the same expressions that have been used by critics of torture when referring to torture:

To investigate the Bush Administration’s use of torture is ‘a terrible decision’.

To criticise torture is unconstitutional.

The Intel men ‘put their lives at risk’.

The investigations have ‘a very, very devastating, I think, effect on morale inside the intelligence community’.

‘it’s clearly a political move’.

And lastly, all this investigation ‘offends the hell out of me, frankly, Chris […] that will do great damage long term to our capacity to be able to have people take on difficult jobs, make difficult decisions’.

 The transcript of the whole Cheney interview with Chris Wallace on “FOX News Sunday” is available here.

 By paralleling the language of the torture critics, the logical conclusion to Cheney’s arguments would be to ask whether investigation into the use of torture does or does not constitute torture.

 One must not underestimate the power that Cheney still wields in the US media (esp. Fox) and his ability to scaremonger a gullible and easily-scared public. Having repeatedly stated that Obama’s policies could bring about massive terrorist attacks on US soil, he and his daughter regularly defend the act of waterboarding as being merely enhanced interrogation, and not torture.

 I recently re-read Henri Alleg’s account of being tortured by the French military during the Algerian war in the late 50s. He describes, but doesn’t use the same name, the very process of waterboarding, which comes between bouts of electrocution via electrodes on his fingers, tongue and penis:

“Together they picked up the plank to which I was still attached and carried me into the kitchen. Once there, they rested the top of the plank, where my head was, against the sink. Two or three Paras held the other end. […] Lo__ fixed a rubber tube to the metal tap which shone just above my face. He wrapped my head in a rag, while De___ said to him: “Put a wedge in his mouth.” With the rag already over my face, Lo__ held my nose. He tried to jam a piece of wood between my lips in such a way that I could not close my mouth or spit out the tube.

When everything was ready, he said to me: “When you want to talk, all you have to do is move your fingers.” And he turned on the tap. The rag was soaked rapidly. Water flowed everywhere: in my mouth, in my nose, all over my face. But for a while I could still breathe in some small gulps of air. I tried, by contracting my throat, to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by keeping air in my lungs for as long as I could. But I couldn’t hold on for more than a few moments. I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me. In spite of myself, all the muscles of my body struggled uselessly to save me from suffocation. In spite of myself, the fingers of both my hands shook uncontrollably. “That’s it! He’s going to talk,” said a voice.

The water stopped running and they took away the rag. I was able to breathe. In the gloom, I saw the lieutenants and the captain, who, with a cigarette between his lips, was hitting my stomach with his fist to make me throw out the water I had swallowed. Befuddled by the air I was breathing, I hardly felt the blows. “Well, then?” I remained silent. “He’s playing games with us! Put his head under again!”

This time I clenched my fists, forcing the nails into my palm. I had decided I was not going to move my fingers again. It was better to die of asphyxiation right away. I feared to undergo again that terrible moment when I had felt myself losing consciousness, while at the same time I was fighting with all my might not to die. I did not move my hands, but three times I again experienced this insupportable agony. In extremis, they let me get my breath back while I threw up the water.

The last time, I lost consciousness.

From: Alleg, Henri, “The Question,” pp. 48-50, trans. John Calder (London: John Calder, Ltd. 1958.)

 To this horrifying account of the brutal technique of ‘the water cure’ (as it was known in mediaeval times), Cheney would surely simply remark – “that ain’t torture”. His loving and dutiful daughter Liz, meanwhile, casually remarks: “Waterboarding isn’t torture.” (crooksandliars.com)

 Former wrestler Jesse Ventura, who a) served in Vietnam and b) was waterboarded as part of his Navy Seal training, remarks that not only is waterboarding real, and not simulated, drowning, but that it is without question torture. He also argues that it is ineffective, as the victim simply says what he believes will make the torture stop:

VENTURA: It’s drowning. It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning. It is no good, because you — I’ll put it to you this way, you give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders. (Crooksandliars)

Even John McCain has returned to his pre-candidacy form to denounce the practice:

Other practices of enhanced interrogation that have recently been declassified from the CIA archives are:


• Threats of execution, using semi-automatic handguns and power drills

• Threats to kill detainee and his children

• Threats to rape detainee's wife and children in front of him

• Restricting the detainee's carotid artery

• Hitting detainee with the butt end of a rifle

• Blowing smoke in detainee's face for five minutes

• Multiple instances of waterboarding detainees, of the type we prosecuted Japanese war criminals for using:

• Hanging detainee by their arms until interrogators thought their shoulders might be dislocated

• stepping on detainee's ankle shackles to cause severe bruising and pain

• choking detainee until they pass out

• dousing detainee with water on cold concrete floors in cold temperatures to induce hypothermia

• killing detainees through torture techniques, whether accidental or not

• putting detainee in a diaper for days at a time to live in their own filth


Info retrieved from the Crooksandliars post Keith Olbermann and Jane Mayer Discuss The Horrors Of Torture And Dick Cheney's Lies


Cheney and Slavoj Žižek strangely both share the opinion that the debate on torture should be closed – Cheney because torture works and is thus ‘a no-brainer’, Žižek because torture is repugnant and to discuss its possible use is as outrageous as debating the merits of rape.


Either way, the problem is not going away, and is causing tremendous ripples across the US television debates – unlike in the UK where the matter of torture by proxy and the complicity of the MI5 is being ignored by the press in the hope that it will disappear.

The War of Images

Baudrillard, as would be expected, addresses the concept of image in the War of Terror in the article War Porn.

“The worst is that it all becomes a parody of violence, a parody of the war itself, pornography becoming the ultimate form of the abjection of war which is unable to be simply war, to be simply about killing, and instead turns itself into a grotesque infantile reality-show, in a desperate simulacrum of power.”

Brilliantly, he addresses the Abu Ghraib images:

“Truth but not veracity: it does not help to know whether the images are true or false. From now on and forever we will be uncertain about these images. Only their impact counts in the way in which they are immersed in the war. There is no longer the need for “embedded” journalists because soldiers themselves are immersed in the image – thanks to digital technology, the images are definitively integrated into the war. They don¹t represent it anymore; they involve neither distance, nor perception, nor judgment. They no longer belong to the order of representation, nor of information in a strict sense. And, suddenly, the question whether it is necessary to produce, reproduce, broadcast, or prohibit them, or even the “essential” question of how to know if they are true or false, is “irrelevant”.

Of the infamous photo of the hooded prisoner with electrodes on his outstretched arms, Baudrillard comments:

This masquerade crowns the ignominy of the war – until this travesty, it was present in this most ferocious image (the most ferocious for America), because it was most ghostly and most “reversible”: the prisoner threatened with electrocution and, completely hooded, like a member of the Ku Klux Klan, crucified by its ilk. It is really America that has electrocuted itself. (War Porn)


 It is worth considering this image in greater depth.

Baudrillard notes that the man is hooded like the KKK, and then crucified by them.

If the image evokes the KKK, is it the horror of them – the violence and racism – or some sense of justice? For the hood is not just the KKK – it is also the burka. The repeated rhetoric, used to justify the war on the Taliban in Afghanistan, is that the Muslim man imprisons the woman. Here, therefore, the liberators pull the burka over the brutalising man. Are the KKK hood and the burka now somehow interrelated in racial tones of supposed justice? And what of the crucifiction? Unlike Christ on the cross, this man is faceless and dressed in black. His crucifiction is thus a mockery, a travesty. He cannot look to the heavens or cast his light on his followers. He is darkness swallowed up by darkness.

My feeling, therefore, in tune with Baudrillard’s, is that these images provided more than simple moral outrage – they provided a degree of titillation shot through with a sense, somehow, of justice. The US soldiers or MPs at Abu Ghraib, in addition to venting their own (homoerotic) sexual fantasies upon the male prisoners, and in addition to constructing very carefully the precise form of sexual humiliation that would most disgust the prisoners, in this particular image, they have created their own particular, culturally and religiously-bound form of punishment. A dark-skinned non-Christian wife-beater is ironically hooded in a KKK mask that doubles as a burka, placed in public view on a soap-box, and is then crucified.

Millions of Iraqi children starved during the US embargo. Thousands of Iraqis dead in bombardment. The only news that really was any news were the images of Abu Ghraib. Is it because these images embodied greater meaning than simple photos of dead children?

They torture children, don’t they?

Perhaps David Icke is right. Perhaps world leaders are reptiles with the ability to shape-shift to appear human. Sometimes they don’t do a good job at the disguise.

If rendition, abuse, incarceration without trial, torture, murder, and all the other horrors of the War of Terror elicit neither excuses nor apologies from the war architects, then surely the knowledge that children as young as 8 have been routinely detained, abused (often sodomised) and even murdered (and we’re not talking about the death of children from bombs – something that happens in any conflict), at the hands of US military and CIA, would cause someone in power to offer even the mildest of condemnation. Alas no. Politics trumps essential humanity on every count.

If the British government demands that writers visiting a shool to read to a large group are required to obtain a Criminal Records Check prove that they are not paedophiles (see Guardian July ’09 – the essential argument being, again, guilty until proven innocent), and if the same government is demanding that its own politicians carry out a similar ridiculous vetting process (but I bet they claim the £64 on expenses) (see Guardian July ’09), then how can it possibly be that someone like Milliband issues no criticism or condemnation of the wholesale abuse and murder of hundreds of children? Milliband’s repeated poe-faced defence of witholding information (‘classified intel’) on the grounds that it would be a threat to national security is an insult to his own cabinet, to his government, and to the people of the UK.

Unless, of course, he is a lizard. In which case such human attributes as compassion, remorse, and forgiveness are simply alien concepts.

Am I reduced to this most fantastic of ideas as a means of reconciling myself to the utter brutality of this long and costly conflict?

“President Jimmy Carter wrote that the Red Cross, Amnesty International and the Pentagon “have gathered substantial testimony of torture of children, confirmed by soldiers who witnessed or participated in the abuse.” In “Our Endangered Values” Carter said that the Red Cross found after visiting six U.S. prisons “107 detainees under eighteen, some as young as eight years old.” And reporter Hersh, (who broke the Abu Ghraib torture scandal,) reported 800-900 Pakistani boys aged 13 to 15 in custody.” (President Carter: Many Children Were Tortured Under Bush Thepeoplesvoice.org)

” Some of the worst things that happened you don’t know about, okay? Videos, um, there are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib … The women were passing messages out saying ‘Please come and kill me, because of what’s happened’ and basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror. It’s going to come out.” (Seymour Hersh Thepeoplesvoice.org)

The following is all copied from the article quoted above in Thepeoplesvoice.

— Iraqi lawyer Sahar Yasiri, representing the Federation of Prisoners and Political Prisoners, said in a published interview there are more than 400,000 detainees in Iraq being held in 36 prisons and camps and that 95 percent of the 10,000 women among them have been raped. Children, he said, “suffer from torture, rape, (and) starvation” and do not know why they have been arrested. He added the children have been victims of “random” arrests “not based on any legal text.”

— Former prisoner Thaar Salman Dawod in a witness statement said, “[I saw] two boys naked and they were cuffed together face to face and [a U.S. soldier] was beating them and a group of guards were watching and taking pictures and there was three female soldiers laughing at the prisoners.”

— Iraqi TV reporter, Suhaib Badr-Addin al-Baz, arrested while making a documentary and thrown into Abu Ghraib for 74 days, told Mackay he saw “hundreds” of children there. Al-Baz said he heard one 12-year-old girl crying, “They have undressed me. They have poured water over me.” He said he heard her whimpering daily.

— Al-Baz also told of a 15-year-old boy “who was soaked repeatedly with hoses until he collapsed.” Amnesty International said ex-detainees reported boys as young as 10 are held at Abu Ghraib.

— German TV reporter Thomas Reutter of “Report Mainz” quoted U.S. Army Sgt. Samuel Provance that interrogation specialists “poured water” over one 16-year-old Iraqi boy, drove him throughout a cold night, “smeared him with mud” and then showed him to his father, who was also in custody. Apparently, one tactic employed by the Bush regime is to elicit confessions from adults by dragging their abused children in front of them.

— Jonathan Steele, wrote in the British “The Guardian” that “Hundreds of children, some as young as nine, are being held in appalling conditions in Baghdad’s prisons…Sixteen-year-old Omar Ali told the “Guardian” he spent more than three years at Karkh juvenile prison sleeping with 75 boys to a cell that is just five by 10 meters, some of them on the floor. Omar told the paper guards often take boys to a separate room in the prison and rape them.

— Raad Jamal, age 17, was taken from his Doura home by U.S. troops and turned over to the Iraqi Army’s Second regiment where Jamal said he was hung from the ceiling by ropes and beaten with electric cables.

— Human Rights Watch (HRW) last June put the number of juveniles detained at 513. In all, HRW estimates, since 2003, the U.S. has detained 2,400 children in Iraq, some as young as ten.

— IRIN, the humanitarian news service, last year quoted Khalid Rabia of the Iraqi NGO Prisoners’ Association for Justice(PAJ), stating that five boys between 13 and 17 accused of supporting insurgents and detained by the Iraqi army “showed signs of torture all over their bodies,” such as “cigarette burns over their legs,” she said.

— One boy of 13 arrested in Afghanistan in 2002 was held in solitary for more than a year at Bagram and Guantanamo and made to stand in stress position and deprived of sleep, according to the “Catholic Worker.” (Thepeoplesvoice.org)

Follow this link to TRUTHOUT.ORG, for a long extract from Henry A. Giroux’s forthcoming book, “Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror,” to be published by Paradigm Publishers.

Today (Aug 27th) in the Times, an article about Mohammed Jawad – ‘I was 12 when I was arrested and sent to Guantanamo’

The horror, the horror

Much has been written about the infamous pics that came out a number of years ago now of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Little more can be said, unless it be said in a court, in helping to convict those high up the chain of command.

Nevertheless, there is one aspect of the images that strikes me as radically different from any other unpleasant images that one might see (Auschwitz victims, earthquake victims, etc.) and that we are fairly innoculised to since our early years… It is the twisted and macabre holiday-snap aspect to the pics.

The girl (I don’t think it’s Lynndie England) smiling over a corpse has the cheerful, innocent, smiling, demeanour of someone posing in front of the Eiffel Tower. She is quite pretty – she might even be with a friend and stops you in the street asks you kindly to take the picture of them with Big Ben in the background. Or perhaps one of those smiley photos of someone who’s just ordered their first regional dish in a restaurant – a paella in Spain – a haggis in Scotland – a pint of ale in England – thumbs up! Send it back to Mom.

The only images that in any compare are the horrifying and gruesome images of lynchings in the Southern States in the early 20th Century. Men in hats and loose suits and women in smart frocks standing casually and quite happily beside a hanged African American – his neck twisted evilly. A group of smiling fellas posing before a charred and still smoking corpse. Is that the Abu Ghraib ancestor?

The sheer horror of the photos is compounded by the gleeful and lighthearted poses – a warped collision of darkness and light – a twisting of meaning. We understand war photos, as we’ve seen them before. We understand holiday snaps. Can we understand them together?

Hopefully not.

Guantánamo isn’t Gitmo

Guantánamo and Gitmo are two radically different beasts. 

This is important – especially when considering Obama’s executive order to close Guantánamo. 

Here follows (if copyright allows) a brief article that I published in the Guardian in March ’09 entitled GITMO ISN’T GUANTÁNAMO


Gitmo isn’t Guantánamo

Though Obama has promised to close Guantánamo’s detention facility, the US naval base still lingers – as do US-Cuba tensionsMistaken assumptions are regularly being made that President Barack Obama has planned to close the US military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. This is not so. He has promised to close only the base’s detention facility – which has no bearing on US-Cuba relations.

While attention is focused on Obama’s gargantuan $787bn (£548bn) economic stimulus plan, the effect of the putative closure of Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility on US-Cuba relations has generally been overlooked.

Having browsed ad nauseam message boards, discussion groups, blogs and forums from both the US and the UK concerning the closure of Guantánamo, I have been struck by a pattern of perceptions that appears endemic. The pattern goes something like this: All detainees in Guantánamo are terrorists. Guantánamo is somehow owned or controlled by Cuba. As such, the detainees are lucky they are under US protection rather than being in the island prison of Cuba itself. And Obama is set to close down the entire operation at Guantánamo Bay.

All of the above are wrong.

First, in the absence of due process of law, the guilt of most of the detainees has not been established. Second, the base is reluctantly leasehold from Cuba – creating an ambiguity of sovereignty and jurisdiction that Judith Butler, back in 2002, described as contributing to “Guantánamo limbo”. Third, the detainees are not under US protection, but rather are incarcerated without charge or sentence. Fourth, on his second full day in office, President Obama publicly signed an executive order to suspend the proceedings of the Guantánamo military commission for 120 days and to close the detention facility within the year. He has not pledged to end the lease of Guantánamo Naval Base.

In November of last year, Raúl Castro explained to actor Sean Penn that he would be willing to discuss with President Obama the return of Guantánamo Bay to Cuba. He suggested that a mutual and neutral space for the meeting could be, ironically, Guantánamo Bay itself. Castro also voiced this opinion in the Russian press prior to his recent state visit, and the idea has been embraced by his brother Fidel Castro, who recently called for Obama to return Guantánamo to Cuba, arguing that the base was a violation of Cuban sovereignty. Cuban foreign minister Felipe Pérez Roque and Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez have also publicly declared this view.

Obama, for his part, has indicated that he is keen to normalise US-Cuba relations. Yet he has also suggested that lifting the trade embargo, and easing the travel and remittance restrictions for Cuban-Americans, would only be possible after political reforms in Cuba – in particular, amnesty for political prisoners. Raúl Castro declares this to be tantamount to exhorting change in the Cuban political structure.

We have now entered the old game of tit-for-tat. The US accuses Cuba of imprisoning political opposition, while the Cuban Five remain behind bars in US penitentiaries. The US accuses Cuba of suppressing dissident voices, while Cuba points to the continuing human-rights abuses at Guantánamo. Cuba retains the label of “rogue state” and supporter of terrorism, while the US refuses to allow Luís Carriles Posada to be extradited. The game is a tired one, and shows no sign of ending.

Meanwhile, detainees in Guantánamo have recently declared a mass hunger strike, the embargo against Cuba is maintained, travel to Cuba by Cuban exiles remains restricted and expensive – and communication between Cuban and US leaders continues to be conducted through the intermediation of Hollywood actors.

guardian.co.uk, Monday 2 March 2009 14.00 GMT