Thursday, December 10, 2015
We Tortured Some Folks Too: event report
By Aisha Maniar
On 8 December, the London Guantánamo Campaign held a public meeting in cooperation with the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, to mark the anniversary of the publication of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report (Torture Report) into the CIA’s use of torture under the extraordinary rendition programme. A heavily redacted 500-page summary of the full 6700 page report was published on 9 December 2014. The report took 5 years to compile, details 119 cases from 2002 to 2009 and cost $40 million to produce. Although since then no more of the report has been made public and there have been no prosecutions in the USA, the report has provided confirmation and shed further light of some of the worst forms of physical, sexual and psychological torture carried out by the CIA this century.
Given its international expanse the programme would have been impossible without the collusion of at least 54 other states, as detailed in a 2013 report by the Open Society Foundations, including the United Kingdom. According to this report (the 2014 Torture Report does not name any countries): “The U.K. government assisted in the extraordinary rendition of individuals, gave the CIA intelligence that led to the extraordinary rendition of individuals, interrogated individuals who were later secretly detained and extraordinarily rendered, submitted questions for interrogation of individuals who were secretly detained and extraordinarily rendered, and permitted use of its airspace and airports for flights associated with extraordinary rendition operations.” There are at least two ongoing prosecutions related to information in the Torture Report.
Dr Juliet Cohen, Head of Doctors at Freedom From Torture which is celebrating 30 years of rehabilitating torture survivors this year, spoke first about the devastating impact torture has on the individual affected. She defined torture as per the UN Convention against Torture, which both the UK and US are signatories to: “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
Dr Cohen outlined one such case from Sri Lanka, of the many she has documented, involving physical and sexual torture by the police, which made the male victim afraid to seek to medical help for rectal bleeding, impotence, anxiety and difficulty eating and sleeping as a result and being afraid to share his experiences as well as triggering difficult memories for him when encountering objects or sounds that reminded him of his imprisonment. She described shame and degradation as the most pervasive of the negative emotions experienced by survivors. The very fact that torture is always carried out law enforcement personnel - overwhelmingly the police and military - means that justice is often a closed door.
Nonetheless, it is important to hold perpetrators of such crimes to account and have prevention mechanisms in place to reduce the occurrence of such practices. Even so, survivors face challenges in accessing healthcare for treatment and psychiatric support can be difficult to get.
Dr Cohen noted two particular areas where the UK is failing in its responsibilities with respect to torture: the ongoing detention of torture survivors seeking asylum in immigration detention facilities, where they cannot access the specialists who can provide medical proof of their claims to support asylum applications, the ongoing distress caused by this administrative detention as well as the failure to protect torture survivors through the application of Rule 35 which provides that such vulnerable people should only be detained under exceptional circumstances. The other failing is the UK’s evasion of responsibility for torture collusion by seeking to prevent cases going to court, such as the current case being heard by the Supreme Court of Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhaj. Britain is preventing both individual accountability of those involved as well as criminal accountability. She stated that the impact of torture is devastating and those responsible must be held to account.
Ben Griffin, coordinator of Veterans for Peace UK, spoke of his experiences in the British army. Following 9/11, there was a change in attitude within the military. Using the analogy of the Nazi concentration camps during World War II, he explained the process of how it is a person comes to be tortured during war. There is a process of people being arrest, transported, starved, humiliated, until they are eventually tortured – looking far more haggled and different to the person who was arrested – and sometimes killed. The torturer doesn’t see the person taken from their home: he or she sees the dehumanised shell: the person who has been starved, had their hair shaved, deprived of sleep, etc. Furthermore, the process is broken down; it is compartmentalised, so that those involved are only involved in one part of the process, such as that he was involved in, in Iraq, of arresting alleged insurgents. Creating a suspect profile also helps to dehumanise those who are suspected of fitting it.
Prisoners in Iraq, where Griffin served until he left the army in 2005, were often held by the British military in completely degrading situations. For example, at Camp Nama, prisoners were held in dog kennels under the heat of the sun. This compartmentalisation of the brutal treatment meted out to prisoners makes it easier to evade responsibility for it.
Questions and comments were raised about accountability, the need for a judge-led inquiry in the UK and the inhumane treatment of terrorism suspects under house arrest in the UK.
Not avoiding the legal issues, Aisha Maniar, LGC organiser, has produced the following brief summary of outstanding torture claims against the British government and the progress that has been made over the past year:
Although the Torture Report was a big news story at the end of 2014, its anniversary has been ignored by the media. Nonetheless, the following reports provide interesting and informative updates:
Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/12/01/no-more-excuses/roadmap-justice-cia-torture
Physicians for Human Rights http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/reports/truth-matters-accountability-for-cia-psychological-torture.html
The LGC thanks the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, for facilitating this event.