Nothing Justifies This

June 26th is the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture and Amnesty International has launched a powerful new online video – “Hooded” – to mark the occasion.

Hooding is a practice that gets to the heart of the relationship between the torturer and his – or her – victim. The hooded victim is dehumanized – hooding deprives the victim of a face, of an identity – and dehumanization is almost always a precursor of abuse.

The anthropologists Ashley Montagu and Floyd Matson famously labeled dehumanization “the fifth horseman of the apocalypse”, an essential precursor to war, rape, pillage and genocide.

Hooding is disorientating. It is designed to restrict the victim’s ability to defend himself – or herself – from harm. It is also calculated to instill fear, a dread of the unknown, of the dark.


The Obama-Bush Doctrine

Protest Bush Canada

Activists protest former President Bush's visit to Canada

In an opinion piece published by the Washington Post last Friday by former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen asked why Amnesty International had not called for the arrest of President Obama for war crimes and claimed that a double standard is at work.

That is not the case.

Amnesty International called for President George W. Bush to be investigated for authorizing the use of torture on detainees in US custody. Torture is recognized as an international crime and states have an obligation to investigate individuals credibly accused of ordering its use who come within their jurisdiction.

It’s that simple.


Bush-Era Memo Raises New Questions About Torture and Accountability


Last weekend the State Department released a draft copy of a highly critical internal memo about the CIA’s use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ that had long since been believed lost to posterity.

The draft, written by State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow in 2006, was uncovered by a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the former Washington Independent reporter Spencer Ackerman. The final memo had been considered so explosive that the Bush administration instructed every single copy be collected and destroyed.

The memo was prepared in response to the passage of new legislation through Congress – the McCain amendment to the Detainee Treatment Act – that prohibited cruel, inhuman and degrading (CID) treatment or punishment. There was no way for the Bush administration to avoid the need to reevaluate the CIA black site program against a CID standard.


10 Years On, 10 Reasons Guantanamo Must Be Closed

guantanamo protest france

(Pierre-Yves Brunaud)

Ten years ago today the first twenty prisoners arrived at the US military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. As we mark this dismal anniversary, it is instructive to take a moment to reflect on the damage Guantanamo continues to do to the global cause of human rights.

Guantanamo is much more than simply the sum of its parts, and outlined below are 10 powerful anti-human rights messages that the continued existence of the detention facility sends out to the world:


No One's Above the Law

Still from Amnesty film on waterboarding

Still from Amnesty film on waterboarding

Last Thursday the Washington Post columnist and Bush administration speechwriter Marc Thiessen launched a vitriolic attack on Amnesty International for advocating for former President Bush’s arrest during a trip to Africa.

Amnesty urged officials in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia to detain Mr. Bush so that his role in ordering the torture of detainees in US custody could be properly investigated. Thiessen called for official Washington to shun Amnesty for taking this position, which he said took the organization out of the political mainstream and into the fever swamps:

“Conservative groups concerned with freedom, democracy, and human rights should similarly refuse to work with Amnesty. The group should pay a steep reputational price for stupidity such as this. If Amnesty wants to behave like a left-wing fringe group, it should be treated as such.”


A Moral Quagmire

On Tuesday the British government announced that it had reached a settlement to pay compensation to sixteen former Guantanamo detainees for the abuses they suffered in US custody. Shaker Aamer, a UK resident still held in Guantanamo, will be one of those receiving an, as yet, undisclosed financial payment.

At least six of the individuals had lodged civil claims for damages against the government in the UK. The complaints included British complicity in unlawful detention, extraordinary rendition and torture. One detainee, Binyam Mohamed, alleged that British intelligence officers had supplied questions to his Moroccan interrogators who at one point cut his penis with a knife to get him to talk.

The British government has denied any wrong doing and the Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke told the House of Commons that “no admissions of culpability have been made in settling these cases.” The stated reasons the government decided to agree to the settlement were to avoid protracted litigation, diverting resources from vital counterterrorism investigations, and estimated legal costs that could have exceeded $80m.

However, an equally pressing concern was the government’s desire to protect classified information from disclosure in court. Much of this classified information related to CIA reporting on its interrogation and treatment of the detainees in its custody.