Thursday, July 10, 2008

Another Perspective: Torture by Other Countries

Sometimes I wonder, as this is a blog dedicated to exposing and reforming the use of torture by the U.S. government, whether readers of this blog realize to what a great extent torture is practiced by countries other than the United States. The fact is that torture is practiced by many other countries. A websearch turns up the following from
According to Human Rights Watch (, the use of torture was documented in the following countries in 2004 and 2005: China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Malaysia, Morocco, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, Turkey, Uganda, and Uzbekistan.
Amnesty International's Annual Report for 2008 lists many other countries where torture and other human rights violations occur on a not irregular basis. These include, among others, Myanmar (Burma), Sudan, Belarus, and Afghanistan (where "violations of international humanitarian and human rights law were committed with impunity by all parties, including Afghan and international security forces and insurgent groups," and where U.S. coalition forces continue to turn over prisoners to the Afghan National Directorate of Security, "despite allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by the NDS".)

One country worth examining in a bit more depth is Egypt, as it exemplifies the effects of an out of control use of torture upon the civil life of a society. A Human Rights Watch article in February 2005 reported:
Human Rights Watch interviewed several former detainees who provided credible accounts of torture they underwent at the hands of SSI [State Security Investigation service] interrogators. Others spoke of seeing fellow detainees who had been badly tortured, and hearing the screams of those being abused. Given that those most likely to have been tortured are among the hundreds if not thousands of persons still in detention, and that many of those released fear the possible consequences of meeting with independent human rights monitors, Human Rights Watch believes that torture and ill-treatment by the SSI has been widespread in connection with the investigations into the Taba attacks. [The Taba attacks concerned a terrible series of bombings of tourist areas, including the Taba Hilton hotel in near the Egyptian-Israeli border in October 2004.]
A HRW "briefing paper" a year earlier described the terrible cost torture had wrought upon Egyptian society:
Torture in Egypt is a widespread and persistent phenomenon. Security forces and the police routinely torture or ill-treat detainees, particularly during interrogation. In most cases, officials torture detainees to obtain information and coerce confessions, occasionally leading to death in custody. In some cases, officials use torture detainees to punish, intimidate, or humiliate. Police also detain and torture family members to obtain information or confessions from a relative, or to force a wanted relative to surrender.

While torture in Egypt has typically been used against political dissidents, in recent years it has become epidemic, affecting large numbers of ordinary citizens who find themselves in police custody as suspects or in connection with criminal investigations. The Egyptian authorities do not investigate the great majority of allegations of torture despite their obligation to do so under Egyptian and international law. In the few cases where officers have been prosecuted for torture or ill-treatment, charges were often inappropriately lenient and penalties inadequate. This lack of effective public accountability and transparency has led to a culture of impunity.
The other countries that practice torture are not always outside Western Europe. Great Britain scandalously tortured IRA prisoners at Long Kesh internment camp in the 1960s-1970s, utilizing techniques such as hooding, sensory deprivation, and isolation that are remarkably similar to those practiced by the United States, as revealed in recent exposes the past five years or so. In the early 1960s, the French were charged with hideous use of torture against Algerian "insurgents".

The U.S. State Department produces Reports on Human Rights of many countries around the world -- I often utilize these reports when doing research on U.S. asylum applicants for my work -- and despite some shortcomings, the State Department reports often document human rights violations, including torture, in many countries around the world. Furthermore, they document the tremendous legal and reporting difficulties experienced by workers of NGOs [Non-Governmental Organizations] in those countries when they seek to expose or remedy these wrongs, including harassment, jailing, even disappearances of such workers.

It's important to note that despite its faults and its struggles the United States remains a country where, even if it is difficult to penetrate the mass media on this subject, journalists, bloggers, NGO organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, etc. do not experience this kind of heavy-handed governmental oppression, at least not as a normal occurrence. And then, too, despite the paucity of coverage in the U.S. press, as readers of this blog know, some important coverage does occur here, coverage that is essential in providing much of what we know about the fight against torture. Furthermore, it seems that within the military and even the intelligence agencies, there are those individuals who do not go along with the misuse of interrogation practices at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Alberto Mora is one such individual who comes to mind. Retired Major General Antonio Taguba is another.

Hence, it was an international embarrassment when some months back an internal training manual developed by the Canadian foreign affairs department labeled the United States as a country where foreigners risked torture, relying on reports of maltreatment in the U.S. prison at Guatanamo, Abu Ghraib, and "black site" prisons. The U.S. protested, and the Canadian government made moves to remove the U.S. from such a list.

The United States is also a major destination for torture victims seeking asylum from around the world. I know. I've worked personally with a fair number of these victims. While the U.S. has tightened the procedures for gaining asylum in the U.S., making them too restrictive, many thousands still find refuge in this country, sometimes from the very countries that remain U.S. allies, some of which have also been harshly criticized by the same State Department reports noted above. Making matters even stranger, many asylum refugees are torture victims fleeing the same countries to which the U.S. sent foreign prisoners in the "war on terror" via "extraordinary rendition", where they then experienced torture (such as Maher Ahar). The entire situation is so irrational, it almost seems invented by a madman trying to confuse any reasonable person into a state of insensibility.

The fight against torture is a world-wide struggle. One major outcome of that political fight was solidified with the production of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which the U.S. is a signatory. (The U.S. ratified the CAT with a number of reservations that unfortunately complicate the enforcement of the CAT when it concerns U.S. possible violations.)

As a statement on Worldwide Torture by Human Rights Watch puts it:
This is a critical time to insist on revelation of the full extent of torture and related abuses by U.S. authorities and to press for prosecution of those responsible. It is also a critical time to press other governments, many of which have been quick to condemn the U.S. for its actions at Abu Ghraib, to investigate and prosecute torture and mistreatment in their own holding cells, detention facilities, and prisons.

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