Earlier this year two stories of torture dominated the press. One was about a man who was sentenced to be lashed effectively to death by Saudis merely for being a liberal. The other concerned the diary of a man who was systematically abused and tortured on his way to Guantanamo Bay and also at his destination. Both examples are the antithesis of civilised behaviour. The Saudis get away with their barbaric regime because of oil. The Americans and their allies get away with torture because the USA is the most powerful nation on earth. In both cases the perpetrators are provided with immunity. When the ‘land of the free’ commits such crimes it gives permission to all other countries to do the same; when the so-called liberal nations ignore the Saudis, they absolve the crimes there and so are complicit. (Note: the campaigns to free both men are ongoing.)
Both the Saudis and the US are in flagrant breach of international conventions, including the Nuremberg Principle, though those guilty avoid prosecution in the international courts because their country is not a signatory to the relevant treaty. Both countries have appalling records in terms of prison populations, sentencing, abuse of prisoners and the use of the death penalty.
Some might say that a fitting and just farewell for the late King Abdulla of Saudi Arabia should have been the same punishment he meted out regularly to those men and women who offended him – lashing and stoning, then beheading. Similarly, those guilty of war crimes at Guantanamo Bay – not just those who carried out the torture, but those involved in rendition at every stage, as well as the order-givers right up to the US Commander-in-Chief – should be prosecuted and face the legal consequences. But we live in a world where the best – and, of course, a more civilised – option we can aim for is a renunciation of these barbaric practices and suitable recompense to the victims and their families.
See also recent article by Chelsea Manning on US torture regime and accountability.
“States based on religious ideology … have nothing except the fear of God and an inability to face up to life. Look at what had happened after the European peoples succeeded in removing the clergy from public life and restricting them to their churches. They built up human beings and (promoted) enlightenment, creativity and rebellion. States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear.”
“Inside the boat, _____ made me drink salt water, I believe it was directly from the ocean. It was so nasty I threw up. They would put any object in my mouth and shout, “Swallow, motherfucker!”, but I decided inside not to swallow the organ-damaging salt water, which choked me when they kept pouring it in my mouth. “Swallow, you idiot!” I contemplated quickly, and decided for the nasty, damaging water rather than death.”
“His final thought quoted Albert Camus: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”… No religion at all has any connection to mankind’s civic progress.”
“I heard indistinct conversations in English, I think it was _____ and his colleague, and probably _________________. Whoever it was, they were supplying the Arab team with torture materials during the three- or four-hour trip. The order went as follows: They stuffed the air between my clothes and me with ice cubes from my neck to my ankles, and whenever the ice melted, they put in new, hard ice cubes. Moreover, every once in a while, one of the guards smashed me, most of the time in the face. The ice served both for the pain and for wiping out the bruises I had from that afternoon. Everything seemed to be perfectly prepared. People from cold regions might not understand the extent of the pain when ice cubes get stuck on your body. Historically, kings during medieval and pre-medieval times used this method to let the victim slowly die. The other method, of hitting the victim while blindfolded in inconsistent intervals, was used by the Nazis during the second world war. There is nothing more terrorising than making somebody expect a smash every single heartbeat.”
Appendix 1: the use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia
- More than 2000 people were executed between 1985 and 2013. At least 22 people were put to death between 4th and 22nd August 2014 alone – more than one per day.
- The death penalty is used in violation of international human rights law and standards. Trials in capital cases are often held in secret and defendants rarely given access to lawyers.
- People may be convicted solely on the basis of “confessions” obtained under torture, other ill-treatment or deception.
- Non-lethal crimes, including “adultery”, armed robbery, “apostasy”, drug-related offences, rape, “witchcraft” and “sorcery”, are punishable by death.
- Three people under 18 were executed in 2013, and in 2014 one under 18-year old was sentenced to death in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- In some cases the relatives of those on death row are not notified of the executions in advance.
- Almost half of the 2,000 people executed between 1985 and 2013 were foreign nationals – i.e. poorly paid ‘guest workers’.
- People with mental disabilities are not spared the death sentence.
- Most executions are by beheading. Many take place in public. In some cases, decapitated bodies are left hanging in public squares as a “deterrent”.
Appendix 2: the US torture regime
Specific examples of torture used by CIA (names of detainees cross-referenced against methods, etc, with additional links at end). Note: the information given below is courtesy of Human Rights Watch.
The State Department’s 2003-2007 Human Rights Reports on Sri Lanka classified “near-drowning” as among “methods of torture.” In the reports on Tunisia from 1996 to 2004, “submersion of the head in water” is classified as “torture.” The United States government has officially acknowledged waterboarding only three detainees: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times, Zubaydah 83 times, and al-Nashiri twice. In Human Rights Watch’s 2012 report Delivered into Enemy Hands, detainee Mohammed Shoroeiya described being repeatedly waterboarded during interrogations in Afghanistan. Another detainee cited in the same report, Sharif, said he was subjected to a similar method of water suffocation where he was made to lie down in a plastic sheet filled with icy water while wearing a hood as jugs of freezing water were poured over his nose and mouth. Their accounts contradict statements about the practice from senior US officials, such as former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who testified to the Senate that the CIA waterboarded only three individuals. Human Rights Watch’s 2011 report Getting Away with Torture details the numerous times US courts found that waterboarding, or variations of it, constitutes torture and is a war crime. Examples include a congressional inquiry of the early 1900s US occupation of the Philippines that led to the court martialing of several US soldiers, and several US military commissions in the World War II Pacific Theater which found that variants of waterboarding constituted torture.
B. Stress Positions, Forced Standing, Forced Nudity:
The State Department’s 2006 Human Rights Report on Jordan deemed subjecting detainees to “forced standing in painful positions for prolonged periods” as torture. In its 2000, 2001 and 2002 reports on Iran, “suspension for long periods in contorted positions” is described as torture. In the 2002 report on Sri Lanka, “suspension by the wrists or feet in contorted positions” and remaining in “unnatural positions for extended periods” are described as “methods of torture.” In the 2005 report on North Korea, “being forced to kneel or sit immobilized for long periods, being hung by one’s wrists, being forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse” is classified as a method of torture. The 2005 Egypt reports cited the stripping and blindfolding of prisoners among the “principal methods of torture.” According to a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, some detainees in US custody were subjected to “[p]rolonged stress standing position, naked, held with the arms extended and chained above the head … for periods from two or three days continuously, and for up to two or three months intermittently, during which period toilet access was sometimes denied resulting in allegations from four detainees that they had to defecate and urinate over themselves.” Many of the detainees also described being subjected to extended periods of nudity, ranging from several weeks to several months. In Human Rights Watch’s Delivered into Enemy Hands, five former detainees in CIA custody described being chained to walls naked – sometimes while diapered – in pitch black, windowless cells, for weeks or months; restrained in painful stress positions for long periods; and forced into cramped spaces. As Human Rights Watch detailed in Getting Away with Torture, stress positions were among a number of interrogation and detention techniques authorized for use by the Bush administration.
C. Threats of Harm to Person, Family:
In the 2006 report on Turkey,“threats to detainees or family members,” and “mock executions” are classified as torture. In the 2006 report on Jordan, “threats of extreme violence or sexual or physical abuse of family members” are deemed as torture. In the 2002 report on Iraq, “threats to rape or otherwise harm family members and relatives” is considered torture. According to a 2009 CIA Inspector General’s report, during interrogations a CIA debriefer put an unloaded semi-automatic handgun to detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri’s head, and also turned a power drill on and off to frighten him while he was naked and hooded. Interrogators also made threats against Nashiri’s family, telling him, “We can get your mother in here,” and, “We can get your family in here.” In the ICRC report Nashiri also alleges that interrogators threatened to sodomize him and rape his family. The CIA report also states that interrogators told Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: “We’re going to kill your children.”
D. Sleep Deprivation, Use of Loud Music:
In the 2005 and 2006 reports on Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, sleep deprivation was classified as torture. In the 2002 State Department report on Pakistan, denial of sleep is described as a “common torture method.” The 2002 report on Turkey lists “loud music” as a “torture method.” In Human Rights Watch’s Delivered into Enemy Hands , detainees Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed al-Shoroeiya and Khalid al-Sharif stated that they were denied sleep by continuous, deafeningly loud Western music played from speakers right next to their ears. The ICRC report details various methods used against detainees for sleep deprivation, from the continuous blaring of loud music or hissing noises to long interrogations and stress positions. Abu Zubaydah, also known to have been held by the CIA, claimed that sometimes as he was falling asleep guards would splash water in his face to keep him awake.
E. Prolonged Solitary Confinement, Confinement in Small Space:
In the 2005 and 2006 reports on Jordan, “extended solitary confinement” is classified as “torture.” The 2002 report on Iraq described “extended solitary confinement in dark and extremely small compartments” as torture. In the 2005 report on North Korea, “being forced to kneel or sit immobilized for long periods, being hung by one’s wrists, being forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse” is classified as a method of torture. In the 2002 report on China, “prolonged periods of solitary confinement” and “incommunicado detention” are listed as torture. The ICRC report describes how detainees were kept in prolonged solitary confinement and incommunicado detention (with no access to family or attorneys) for periods ranging from 16 months to as long as four-and-a-half years. In Delivered into Enemy Hands , detainees describe being held in very small cells for prolonged periods of solitary confinement and incommunicado detention through much of their imprisonment.
Getting Away with Torture describes the CIA’s secret detention program as entailing “prolonged incommunicado detention.”
 Human Rights Watch, Getting Away with Torture, July 12, 2011, http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/us0711webwcover_1.pdf, p. 55.
 Ibid., p. 58.
 “Obama: ‘We Tortured Some Folks’ after 9/11,” CBS News, August 1, 2014, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/obama-we-tortured-some-folks-after-911/ (accessed December 5, 2014).
 Jose Rodriguez, former chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine operations, recently said of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program for example, that “it worked because it was not torture (“Watching ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ with the CIA: Separating Fact from Fiction,” Moderated Discussion at American Enterprise Institute Transcript, January 29, 2013, http://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/-event-transcript_111915959376.pdf
(accessed December 5, 2014); Senate Intelligence Committee Vice-Chairman Saxby Chambliss has disputed the use of the term “torture” to describe the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program and said that waterboarding is “not torture, (Sandy Fitzgerald, “Saxby Chambliss: Senate Probe of CIA Interrogations “a Mistake,’” Newsmax August 3, 2014, http://www.newsmax.com/Newsfront/Chambliss-hacking-probe-CIA/2014/08/03/id/586557/ (accessed December 5, 2014); Former US President George W. Bush has also said that “enhanced interrogation techniques” authorized by the Justice Department were legal and that waterboarding is not torture (see “Waterboarding is Torture, Downing Street Confirms,” The Guardian, November 9, 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/nov/09/george-bush-memoirs-waterboarding (accessed December 5, 2014).
 The Constitution Project, “The Report of The Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment,” 2013, http://detaineetaskforce.org/pdf/Full-Report.pdf (accessed December 2, 2014), p. 359; U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Report, 1996 – 2007, available at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/ (accessed December 2, 2014).
 Testimony of Michael Hayden in front of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, February 5, 2008, http://www.intelligence.senate.gov/pdfs/110824.pdf, p. 71-72. CIA Office of the Inspector General, “Special Review: Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001 – October 2003),” May 7, 2004, declassified in August 2009, http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/politics/20090825-DETAIN/2004CIAIG.pdf (accessed July 2, 2012), (“CIA OIG report”), p. 90-91.
 The Constitution Project, “The Report of The Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment,” p. 359; U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Report, “Jordan,” 2006, http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/78855.htm (accessed December 2, 2014).
 The Constitution Project, “The Report of The Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment,” p. 359; U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Report, “Iran,” 2000-2002, available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/78855.htm (accessed December 2, 2014).
 The Constitution Project, “The Report of The Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment,” p. 359; U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Report, “Sri Lanka,” 2002, http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/18315.htm (accessed December 2, 2014).
 Human Rights Watch, “Descriptions of Techniques Allegedly Authorized by the CIA,” November 21, 2005, http://www.hrw.org/legacy/english/docs/2005/11/21/usdom12071_txt.htm; US Department of State, Human Rights Report, “Egypt,” 2005, http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2005/61612.htm (accessed December 2, 2014).
 The Constitution Project, “The Report of The Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment,” p. 360; U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Report, 2005-2006, available at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/ (accessed December 2, 2014).
 Human Rights Watch, “Descriptions of Techniques Allegedly Authorized by the CIA”; U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Report, “Pakistan,” 2002, http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/18314.htm (accessed December 2, 2014).
 ICRC, Regional Delegation for United States and Canada, “ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody,” p. 9, 29.
 Ibid., p. 15.
 The Constitution Project, “The Report of The Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment,” p. 360; U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Report, “Jordan,” 2005-2006, available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/ (accessed December 2, 2014).