When Life is Disposable: Muslim Bodies as Precarious in the War on Terror


(Photo: Justin Norman)

By Dr. Maha Hilal, Executive Director at National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms

“[W]hat counts as a livable life and a grievable death?”

(Judith Butler, 2004, p. xv)

The Muslim body in the so-called War on Terror has been treated as if it is without value and inconsequential. Muslim bodies have been detained, extradited, tortured, and unlawfully killed. Muslim lives have been drowned in a sea of policy and rhetoric that justifies the loss of lives as “collateral damage” in the name of protecting U.S. security.  Methods which would otherwise be considered brutal and inconsistent with the U.S. government claims to uphold democracy and human rights position Muslims as less than human, and in this way their lives and their deaths are treated as inconsequential. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

GOP Candidates Pledge to Bring Back Torture

Still from Amnesty film on waterboarding

Still from Amnesty film on waterboarding

Saturday’s Republican Debate in Spartanburg, South Carolina, treated us once again to the now traditional quadrennial spectacle of American politicians pledging to torture terrorist suspects.

The debate was intended to showcase the candidates’ national security chops and current frontrunner Herman Cain took the opportunity to demonstrate that he was fluent in doublespeak by calling for the reintroduction of waterboarding while simultaneously declaring that he abhorred torture.


Top UK Officials Doubt Bush Claims

Former President George Bush has spent the past week touring media outlets to promote the publication of his new memoir “Decision Points” in which he proudly admits that he authorized the CIA to subject terrorist suspects to “simulated drowning” in an attempt to get them to talk.

Speaking to the British newspaper The Times, Bush claimed that water-boarding had saved British lives by preventing attacks on a skyscraper in the East End of London and on Heathrow airport. His claims received an immediate rebuttal from a series of British politicians from across the political spectrum in the UK.

The former Director of Public Prosecutions during the period in question, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, told the Daily Telegraph:

“I’ve never seen anything to substantiate these claims. It’s an easy claim to make, it’s much more difficult to prove. These claims are to be treated with a great deal of skepticism.”

Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General added:

“I know President Bush has made these claims. I don’t know what evidence there is for it. I didn’t hear that at the time.”

The former Chairman of the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee, Dr. Kim Howells, said that he doubted that “what we regard as torture actually produced information instrumental in preventing those plots coming to fruition.” Dr. Howells added in an interview with BBC:

“It is his claim and no doubt he will go on making it… he needs to try to justify what he did to the world. We think water-boarding is torture.”

David Davis, former Shadow Home Secretary and a former Special Forces soldier, also observed on the same BBC program:

“[President Bush] talks about being mortified about what he termed being false intelligence that led to the war in the Iraq. Do you know where that false intelligence came from – a large part of it – it came from the torture of a Mr. Al-Libi… That’s the problem with torture. People under torture tell you what you want to hear. If you want to hear that Saddam is supporting Al Qaeda, which plainly he wasn’t, that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, which plainly he didn’t; then you’ll get that information by torture. You’ll get the wrong information.”

The British Prime Minster, David Cameron, reiterated his belief that the manner in which the United States had treated War on Terror detainees had made the West less, not more, safe.


Torture Awareness Month

Speaking in Grand Rapids, Michigan, last Wednesday former President George W. Bush appeared to take personal responsibility for the decision to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:

“Yeah, we waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. I’d do it again to save lives.”

The former President’s comments remove any lingering doubt that may have remained that torture was sanctioned at the highest level of his administration.

The lack of public outcry at his remarks demonstrates all too clearly how for most Americans torture has become an acceptable tool in America’s counter-terrorism arsenal.

Prior to September 11th waterboarding was unequivocally regarded as torture in American jurisprudence. Sleep deprivation was a tool used by Stalin’s secret police. Mock executions were associated with Hollywood villains not Congressional candidates.

Then everything changed. People got scared and unscrupulous politicians sold the idea that thuggish criminality was the only route to public safety. In reality, we got less safe not more. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo created droves of new recruits for Al Qaeda and got hundreds, if not thousands, of American servicemen and women killed.

America’s decision to turn to the dark side, as Dick Cheney memorably put it, alienated our allies and made it difficult for foreign governments to work with us. It has made them more likely to withhold vital intelligence and less likely to work alongside US troops. This also makes us less safe.

We need to reboot. The election of President Obama seemed to offer that opportunity but he let it slip away. Like Dick Cheney during the Vietnam War – the President had other priorities and now torture is slowly creeping back into the mainstream.

In the past months reports have surfaced that US personnel are using sleep deprivation, enforced isolation and physical violence on prisoners held in a secret screening facility in Bagram, Afghanistan.

We have seen this movie before. Abuse inevitably escalates and America’s reputation will just as inevitably be further tarnished.

There was a time in America when torture was considered beyond the pale. The landmark 1980 case Filártiga v. Peña-Irala opened the way for foreign torturers to be pursued in US courts. The panel of American judges that heard the case commented:

“For the purposes of civil liability the torturer has become – like the pirate and the slave trader before him – hostis humani generis, an enemy of all mankind.”

I don’t know about you but I miss that America. However, it wasn’t destroyed by Osama bin Laden but by those who made political capital out of the 9/11 tragedy and by the rest of us who let them.

The Soccer World Cup is not the only global event happening this month. June is international torture awareness month. Amnesty is calling on its supporters to sign up to host an event to raise awareness that torture remains a central issue in American public life.

We cannot claim America has changed until we confront this issue and lay it to rest. Torture is both illegal and morally abhorrent. Just societies do not use it. Period. We need to send our government the message that they cannot just look the other way.

We need to reestablish the norm against torture in American politics. But we can’t do it without you. You need to raise your voice. So please get involved in torture awareness month and help rebuild an America we can all believe in.