Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Torturers must not go scot-free

By Linda S. Heard

Online Journal Contributing Writer | Online Journal, Apr 22, 2009

Imagine this! One day, you find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. You are kidnapped by a foreign intelligence agency, strip-searched, hooded, blindfolded, handcuffed and shackled before being flown to an incarceration centre. Once there, you are interrogated about subjects and individuals you know nothing about. You loudly proclaim your innocence but your interrogators become angry.

Before long, you suffer the indignity of enforced nudity, which may painfully violate your religious or cultural beliefs. Perhaps you are stuffed into a tiny dark space in which you cannot stand. All you want to do is sleep but every time you close your eyes you are dowsed with cold water. This goes on for up to 120 hours.

If you are still unable to tell them what they want to know, you are deprived of food, slapped, made to hold painful stress positions for hours on end, such as kneeling while leaning back at a 45-degree angle, and if you have a phobia concerning insects you will be placed into a box with one. You might be prevented from visiting the bathroom and made to wear nappies.

Lastly, you will be subjected to a process that simulates drowning, whereby you feel your very life is ebbing away — waterboarding. Imagine that you endure this suffering for seven years and all the while you are being told that you will never ever be free or free of it.

All the above was authorised by the Bush administration’s Justice Department. In reality, detainees endured far worse under George W. Bush’s watch with the White House’s full knowledge.

In many cases, the lives of their wives and children were threatened.

There are even reports that children were imprisoned, interrogated and tortured with insects to force them to disclose the whereabouts of their fathers. Remember, too, that the vast majority of prisoners were — and are being — locked up without a shred of evidence against them.

Let me ask you something. If, God forbid, you were in their place and were lucky enough to be eventually released, do you think your life would ever return to normal? Or do you anticipate that your mental, emotional, perhaps even physical existence would be scarred forever?

Having read through the so-called ‘torture memos,’ it seems that Justice Department officials did not consider any of the above-mentioned practices ‘torture’ because, according to them, any harm derived from their use was transient rather than prolonged. Who are they trying to kid?

Kudos to US President Barack Obama for authorising the release of the memos, which was his way of admitting what most people around the world already knew: during the preceding eight years, the superpower has made severe mistakes.

Acknowledgment is the first step to recovery but is this enough? Obama is against prosecuting those responsible for breaching the spirit of the United Nations Convention against Torture or other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as the United States Code and the US Constitution. “Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past,” he says.

Obama simply wants to close this ugly chapter and move on. But he’s wrong.

Anyone who commits a crime whether he or she be a shoplifter, a rapist, a paedophile, a murderer, a war criminal or a torturer should be made to face repercussions. Nobody should be exempt in the name of ‘moving on.’ Based on that principle, what is the Simon Wiesenthal Centre doing chasing after an 89-year-old former Nazi camp guard, as well as attempting to locate the body of Aribert Heim, dubbed ‘Dr Death,’ so as to dig it up?

In this case, not only have innocents and their families been irreparably harmed and America’s standing in the world along with them, it sets a precedent for future administrations. At the very least, those responsible should be made to make a public apology so that this kind of thing can never happen again.

Obama wants to ensure that CIA operatives who followed orders are immune from prosecution and while I can sympathise with their plight, the same did not apply to those SS officers who followed orders during the Second World War, and rightly so.

It’s not that I am comparing the severity of Nazi atrocities to the actions of Western intelligence services or contractors but, if you think about it, you’ll find that the principle is the same.

There is no excuse for the torturing and degradation of human beings, which harms not only the victim but also the soul of the torturer. It also opens the door for our enemies to torture us. Besides, it doesn’t work because anyone who is tortured will say just about anything to stop the pain. Moreover, evidence gleaned from torture is not accepted by most courts of law.

President Obama, thanks for the truth but where’s the accountability? For without that, there’s little hope of forgiveness or reconciliation.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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