May 18, 2008

The Non–Negotiable Human Right

Originally Printed February 20, 2008 Dissident Warwick Issue 2
by Barnaby Pace

The right not to be tortured is generally seen as the most inviolable of human rights, completely non-negotiable. This is shown with the prohibition of torture being part of the European Convention on Human Rights penned by Winston Churchill, the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But UK government despite its rhetoric of freedom and democracy is complicit in torture and is getting away with it. Perhaps we turn a blind eye because of the climate of fear we are living? Should we blame shows such as 24, which show the hero getting the terrorist to give correct information just in the nick of time through torture; perhaps Tony Blair saw himself as the next Jack Bauer? Whatever the reason, as Tony Blair put it “The rules of the game have changed”1 and our government is now willing to allow torture. The UK government’s complicity is shown by the UK government accepting intelligence acquired through torture, involvement in the US practice of rendition, and providing the people and equipment for torture.

Torture is not only morally repugnant, it is not even very practical. A person being tortured will say whatever they think will stop the torture, even if they know it to be untrue, making any information gleaned highly unreliable. Confessions extracted under torture are more likely to lead to false incrimination, not, a good example of this is the “Ricin bomb factory” in North London that never existed but was suggested by intelligence gained using torture by Algerian security forces, the fictitious nature of the Ricin did not stop the accused men losing more than 3 years of their lives to prison and control orders tantamount to house arrest.

In the long term depriving individuals of their human rights and using torture is likely to fuel hatred, extremism and terrorism, not prevent it. It is incredible hypocritical for our leaders to speak of spreading democracy, freedom and a peaceful vision of the world if the means of spreading these admirable aims is through torture. The use of torture will only strengthen the case of those demonising the UK and US.

The most obvious example of torture by our american allies is the Guantanamo Bay facility. The US claims that the “Detained Personnel” held at Guantanamo and can be kept without fair trial indefinitely and can be denied the rights of prisoners of war. The US government and military maintains that they do not torture but instead use “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” which include sleep deprivation, forced nudity, isolation, sensory deprivation, extremes of temperature, stress positions2 and “waterboarding” a method of simulating drowning. Fortunately President George Bush reassured the public by saying this about those kept in Guantanamo Bay: “the only thing I know for certain is they’re bad people”.

Unfortunately Guantanamo Bay is thought to account for only 4% of people kept in secret US prisons and we can only guess at the nature of these other 96% of secret incarcerations. However as they are being kept secret, it seems reasonable to assume that many are worse than Guantanamo.

Sadly UK businesses have also been turning a profit from the suffering of the detainees in Guantanamo. A Birmingham based company called Hiatt’s (a subsidiary of BAE systems) has been manufacturing shackles ever since the slave trade and its products are now used in Guantanamo Bay, even on British citizens who I am sure were greatly comforted by the “Made in England” mark on their restraints.3

When the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” used at US facilities are not enough then the process of rendition comes into play. The CIA practice of rendition involves “detainees” being transported to a country where they are likely to be tortured. Examples of rendition destinations include Egypt where Electro-shock torture is used; Libya, where a device called the German chair is used which stretches the spine to breaking point; Morocco, where prisoners are raped with broken bottles, and Uzbekistan, where prisoners have been boiled alive. The intelligence is then communicated back to the US and its allies, naturally including the UK. Not only does the UK government receive the intelligence, the UK also acts as a stopover point with CIA rendition flights refuelling at Manchester and Prestwick airports. The government response to the allegation of rendition flights in the UK was to order an inquiry which claimed that “Britain did not allow CIA ‘torture flights’ to use its airports to take terror suspects out of Europe”. Contradicting this finding, a Council of Europe report concluded that the “US and its NATO allies reached a secret agreement allowing the CIA to hold high-value detainees in Europe”. The Council of Europe alleged that Britain provided logistical support at civilian and military airports.4 Who to believe is your choice.

Some of those in positions of authority have taken a stand against torture; notably Craig Murray (Former ambassador to Uzbekistan) and Derek Pasquill (a civil servant who leaked details of rendition to the press5). But we need more of those in power to take a stand against the abhorrent practice of torture.

Disagree? Want to check our sources? Visit our Blog.

1. “Blair vows to root out extremism”, The Guardian, 6th August 2005 http://www.guardian.co.uk/attackonlondon/story/0,,1543784,00.html

2. “Canada puts US on torture list”, BBC Website, Friday 18th January 2008 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/7195276.stm

3. “As used on the famous Nelson Mandela”, Mark Thomas, Ebury Publishing

4. “CIA torture flights did not land”, The Times, 9th June 2007 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article1907078.ece

5. “Secret Email that freed mole at the foreign office”, The Guardian, 13th January 2008

Also worth looking at are

Amnesty International: www.amnesty.org

Human Rights Watch: www.hrw.org

Council of Europe: www.coe.int

“Murder in Samarkand, A British Ambassador’s Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror” by Craig Murray


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