Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Tortured by Mistake

That is the headline: Tortured by Mistake.
Not the headline, but the inference. The unspoken implication is that torture may be okay if it is NOT a mistake. That is the pernicious subtext that I don't think even the Washington Post headline writers and editors intended. Nevertheless, that is where the public debate is headed.

I have a hard time coming to terms with living in a time when it is necessary to explain myself when I say that I am against the use of torture.

After looking at some of the stories and documents [PDF] relating to this story I will have to take a pass on writing a post about it. It may be the most altogether disgusting sequence of events that has hit the news in recent times.

Oh, there are more tragic, more bloody, more horrendous stories out there...but they are about textbook evil people doing what their kind does. Or about otherwise noble and upright people who due to some character defect have fallen prey to that one chink in their moral armour that took them down some dark pathway to their ultimate destruction.

But this is not the same. This public conversation about torture is taking place in high places, among elected and appointed officials that represent you and me. This is not about some perverted or misguided individual or group that has nothing to do with most of us. This is us talking. You and I. A conversation by proxy that is seriously contemplating under what circumstances to use torture.

Un. Be. Liev. Able.

What Constitutes “Torture”?

Even while Mr. Arar was in detention in Syria, reports circulated that he was being subjected to torture. A report of the Syrian Human Rights Committee, an NGO based in London, provided certain details that Mr. Arar himself later contradicted and clarified. In his first public statement on the conditions of his detention, delivered on November 4, 2003, a month after his return to Canada, Mr. Arar described his treatment in the context of torture. He stated:

The next day I was taken upstairs again. The beating started that day and was very intense for a week, and then less intense for another week. That second and the third days were the worst. I could hear other prisoners being tortured, and screaming and screaming. Interrogations are carried out in different rooms. One tactic they use is to question prisoners for two hours, and then put them in a waiting room, so they can hear the others screaming, and then bring them back to continue the interrogation.

The cable is a black electrical cable, about two inches thick. They hit me with it everywhere on my body. They mostly aimed for my palms, but sometimes missed and hit my wrists they were sore and red for three weeks. They also struck me on my hips, and lower back. Interrogators constantly threatened me with the metal chair, tire and electric shocks.

The tire is used to restrain prisoners while they torture them with beating on the sole of their feet. I guess I was lucky, because they put me in the tire, but only as a threat. I was not beaten while in tire. They used the cable on the second and third day, and after that mostly beat me with their hands, hitting me in the stomach and on the back of my neck, and slapping me on the face. Where they hit me with the cables, my skin turned blue for two or three weeks, but there was no bleeding. At the end of the day they told me tomorrow would be worse. So I could not sleep. Then on the third day, the interrogation lasted about eighteen hours.

From the earliest descriptions of his ordeal, to the first public statement, and in all the subsequentrepresentations of his counsel before the Commission, Mr. Arar has asserted that he was tortured.It is therefore necessary for me to enter the grim realms of defining what is meant by the term torture.

In assessing what constitutes torture, I am assisted by well-established international law standards and by clear testimony before the Commission. In the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984[hereinafter Convention Against Torture], “torture” is defined in Article 1 as:
…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...

I don't have the patience to copy and paste the rest.

Look at this description of another man's treatment:

Mr. Nureddin was detained from 11 December 2003 to 14 January 2004. He struck me as asimple man: his descriptions were unembellished and visceral. He described his fear at being shown in an interrogation room a few links of chain on a wall and an open chair frame which he immediately deduced were used for torture. Many details of his testimony correlated closely to descriptions offered by Messrs. Almalki and EL Maati. For example, in one interrogation session two days after his arrest, Mr. Nureddin described how he was stripped to his underwear and hadcold water poured over him while lying on his stomach under a fan. He was asked to raise his feet. He then saw a “black cable” which was used to beat him on the soles of his feet. This cable– which figures prominently in all the descriptions of beatings that I heard – was brought down on his feet some fifteen times. Then Mr. Nureddin was told to stand up. Cold water was pouredon his feet to ease the searing pain, and he was ordered to run in one place before the procedurewas repeated two more times.

Sorry, folks. Some of us have to stand for something better than this. If that makes me an outcaste, then that is how it must be.

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