Coming Face to Face with Torture

Pawiak Prison Museum in Warsaw Poland

Pawiak Prison Museum in Warsaw, Poland.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the Pawiak Prison Museum in Warsaw, Poland.

During the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War II Pawiak was the largest political prison in the country – approximately 100,000 prisoners passed through its cells.

37,000 of those men and women died in Pawiak – many under interrogation by the Gestapo. Another 60,000 were sent to German concentration camps. Very few survived the war.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

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:

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Asking The Wrong Question About Torture

In 1958 a communist French newspaper editor sympathetic to the cause of Algerian independence called Henri Alleg published “The Question”, a short account of his interrogation under torture by French paratroopers:

“The rag was soaked rapidly. Water flowed everywhere: in my mouth, in my nose, all over my face. But for a while I could still breathe in some small gulps of air. I tried, by contracting my throat, to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by keeping air in my lungs for as long as I could. But I couldn’t hold on for more than a few moments.

I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me. In spite of myself, all the muscles of my body struggled uselessly to save me from suffocation… three times I again experienced this insupportable agony. In extremis, they let me get my breath back while I threw up the water. That last time, I lost consciousness.”

Despite being water-boarded, subjected to electric shocks, burned, beaten, and drugged with pentothal, Henri Alleg did not give his captors the information they were after – the name of the individual who had hidden him from the authorities.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Hey Bush: If Waterboarding's So Great, Put this Video in Your Museum!

Warning: This video is not suitable for children. Do not try this at home.

Last night in a TV interview former President Bush reiterated that he personally approved waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and would do it again.

According to Bush, “the lawyer said it was legal.” Try that defense the next time you’re accused of a crime. It should become one of the great catchphrases of our time, the “Where’s the beef?” of the aughts.

Bush also said waterboarding saved lives. First of all, even if it did it’s still wrong and a crime. Second, where’s the proof?  Actual military interrogators say torture cost American lives.

Bush is just trying to cover his butt from being prosecuted for torture.

Let’s call him out:

Email the waterboarding video above to Bush’s Presidential Library and Museum at  museum.gwbush@nara.gov.

I’m going to include the message “Torture is part of President George W. Bush’s legacy. Please add this video of waterboarding to his museum.”

What will you say? Let us know in the comments.

Top 10 Things You Wanted to Know About UNCAT but Were Afraid to Ask

There’s been talk recently of  George W. Bush’s admission in his new memoir that he personally approved the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and whether the U.N. Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) obligates the U.S. government to prosecute him for the crime of torture.

Decide for yourself: read the Q & A below and let us know what YOU think in the comment section.

1. What is the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT)?

The acronym UNCAT is a shortened version of The United Nations Convention against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The UNCAT is an international human rights instrument which mandates a global prohibition on torture and creates an instrument to monitor governments and hold them to account.

2. So, what does the UNCAT actually do?

The UNCAT defines what is meant by torture, bans the use of torture, cruel and degrading treatment, bans refoulement (the extradition of individuals at risk to countries where they may face torture), requires governments to actively prevent torture, requires governments to investigate torture allegations, requires governments to provide remedy to torture victims and establishes an appropriate UN committee to deal with issues of redress, monitoring and investigation.

3. What is meant by torture?

The UNCAT defines torture 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 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.”

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

US Media: American Waterboarding Good, Foreign Waterboarding Bad

According to a new study from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, since the beginning of the “war on terror,” and especially since the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, the nation’s four widest circulated newspapers, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today, have had a “significant and sudden shift in how [they have] characterized waterboarding.”

The study shows very interesting findings regarding the characterization of waterboarding in a number of articles over the last 70 years. From the 1930s and until 2002-2004, the Media that covered waterboarding considered it torture, or at least implied that it was torture. However, after it was clear that the U.S. was using this interrogation technique, those newspapers stopped referring, in most of the cases, to it as a form of torture.

Instead, they started giving it a “softer and less negative” connotation using words like “harsh,” “coercive” and “controversial.” For example, while the New York Times, between 1931 and 1999, considered waterboarding as torture in 81.5% of the articles that mentioned the practice, between 2002 and 2008, waterboarding was only considered as torture in 1.4% of the cases. The percentages of articles in the LA Times reflect almost the same pattern.

But ironically, when waterboarding was used in a country other than the United States, the newspapers under the study indeed referred to it as torture.

The study concludes that the change in waterboarding’s characterization is not due to the Media’s efforts “to remain neutral in the debate going on in the U.S.,” as some suggest. Rather, since waterboarding has always been considered as torture under American and international law, “the newspaper’s equivocation on waterboarding can hardly be termed neutral.”

Join our call for a full investigation into the US government’s use of torture.

What Do O.J. Simpson and Attorney General Michael Mukasey Have in Common?

(c) Getty Images

(c) Getty Images

Consider the following two statements:

1.“I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong.”

2. [There is no evidence those involved. . . did what they did] “for any reason other than to protect the security in the country and in the belief that he or she was doing something lawful. In those circumstances, there is no occasion to consider prosecution. . .”

The first statement was made by O.J. Simpson in pleading for leniency as he was being sentenced for charges that included armed robbery and kidnapping in the course of attempting to recover sports memorabilia that he believed was rightfully his.  The second statement was made by Attorney General Michael Mukasey in response to a question about whether pardons were being considered for Bush administration officials who were involved in developing counterterrorism policies.

Comparing these two statements may, at first glance, seem like a stretch. After all, the underlying actions they were referring to – attempting to recover allegedly stolen personal property at gunpoint and defending the national security of the United States – are vastly different in character.  However, the two statements offer remarkably similar justifications for criminal, or potentially criminal, actions.

In Simpson’s case, he was chastised by Judge Jackie Glass of Clark County District Court for arguing, in essence, that because he believed he was not doing anything wrong, therefore no crime took place.  Yet that is exactly the reasoning advanced by Attorney General Mukasey regarding potentially criminal acts in the “war on terror.” No pardons need be considered, he argues, because there were no violations of law.  This is because those who developed policies on the treatment of terror suspects believed they were not doing anything wrong, but rather were acting out of the purest of motives.

What extraordinary reasoning this is from the chief law enforcement officer of the United States! Mr. Mukasey’s argument, like his refusal to condemn waterboarding, is a disgraceful attempt to shield from further investigation and prosecution those who justified and authorized illegal acts.  It is particularly outrageous because the Attorney General is more responsible than any other single person for upholding the rule of law in the United States.  As Amnesty International noted in commenting on Mr. Mukasey’s statement, ignorance of the law and defense of national security are no excuse for criminal behavior.  How very sad that our Attorney General has yet to understand that.