Friday, January 27, 2006

legitimate torture

Following Hamas' success in the Palestinian elections, Jack Straw demanded that they renounce violence. He said, 'You cannot have democracy and violence.' Obviously this does not apply to the US and UK versions of democracy. Leaving aside acts of military violence perpetrated by these nations, there are also major human rights violations to consider. These are outlined in the Human Rights Watch World Report 2006.

The basic tenet of international human rights law is the absolute and unconditional prohibition of torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. There are exceptions to the right to life, which allow killing in a time of conflict, but torture in all its guises is absolutely forbidden. However, now world powers consider torture to be a valid option. And the United States is the prime violator, ably assisted by its loyal ally the United Kingdom.

The problem is far greater than that perceived following the Abu Ghraib revelations. Those abuses were a direct result of US policy decisions that allowed interrogators a freer hand in proceedings. The decisions taken included the removal of Geneva Convention protections for war on terrorism prisoners, the adoption of a torture definition that was meaningless, and the power endowed to the US President to authorise torture.

Creating a culture for abuse however was not sufficient, detainee abuse as a deliberate policy, soon became the norm.

The United Nations’ Convention Against Torture defines the term as 'any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person.' However, the US defined torture as an act that caused serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulted in a loss of significant body function.

The US defend classic torture measures such as 'water-boarding,' a technique where the victim believes s/he will drown, and mock executions.

This stance is highlighted by Bush's avoidance of the prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. This is further exacerbated by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' claim that it is permissible to use such treatment for non-Americans held outside the United States. Dick Cheney is also on record as imploring Congress to apply exemptions to the CIA from legislation to ban cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the deputy director of national intelligence, stated that U.S. interrogators have a duty to use all available authority to fight terrorism.

Whilst the US is the only western democracy to approve the abuse of detainees, Britain has adopted policies that make it complicit. Blair has proposed the deportation of terrorist suspects to countries with well documented torture histories for such people, a full adoption of the US 'extraordinary rendition' policy (which it currently aids).

The Convention Against Torture prohibits sending people to a country where there is reason to believe that they would be tortured. However, the UK government has suggested sending their terrorist suspects to Algeria, Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. Each of these countries are guilty of torturing radical Islamists.

In order to salve their collective conscience, Blair and his government have proposed 'memoranda of understanding,' where the recipient countries promise not to mistreat the suspect, and periodical monitoring, to validate this promise. The memoranda are useless, each of the aforementioned countries have ratified the Convention Against Torture but ignored it. This form of monitoring is also problematic. Periodic monitoring will not deny torturers opportunity, and isolated detainees have little chance of exposing their mistreatment without suffering consequent retaliation.

This course of action is incompatible with international law, and therefore Blair has sought to change the law. The Brits and the US have tried to defeat a UN resolution that stated that diplomatic assurances were not sufficient to absolve governments of their duty not to send suspects to countries where they are likely to be tortured. In the European Court of Human Rights, the UK stated that this duty should be balanced against security considerations and urged other European governments to follow their lead.

Democracy without violence, not in their world.

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