torture   Have you ever wondered about some of the shared traits of humanity?  One could prosaically think of Love, Compassion and Happiness and one would be correct.  If the similarities ended there, I wouldn’t be writing, nor would you be reading about the prevalence of torture across the globe.

“The report titled Torture in 2014 – 30 Years of Broken Promises read: “Although governments have prohibited this dehumanising practice in law and have recognised global disgust at its existence, many of them are carrying out torture or facilitating it in practice.”

“Three decades from the convention and more than 65 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights torture is not just alive and well. It is flourishing,” according to the report.

Amnesty said 155 countries have ratified the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture but many governments were still “betraying their responsibility” with at least 79 countries continuing to engage in the outlawed practice in 2014.

“It’s almost become normalised, it’s become routine,” Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty told reporters at the launch of the “Stop Torture” campaign in London. The campaign focuses on Mexico, the Philippines, Morocco and Western Sahara, Nigeria and Uzbekistan.”

   Awesome.  It is infuriating to see that people understood their situation and attempted to rectify the sad state of affairs – we *are* capable of being decent human beings, yet today we turn away from the lessons learned so long ago. 

“The group notes how the UN Convention made torturers “international outlaws” and prompted governments worldwide to denounce the practice. But it warns that in reality many are endorsing or at least failing to tackle the issue head-on.

“Governments have broken their promises, and because of these broken promises millions of people have suffered terribly,” said Shetty.”

No country should be above international law, the existence of jurisdictions ‘outside’ the International Court of Justice’s purview make tackling issues, like Torture,  that stretch across national boundaries difficult, if not impossible to resolve.  But hey, we’re past that whole ‘torture thing’ right?  Right??

“As I interviewed an ever-increasing number of the victims of 21st century American torture, I began to research the historical antecedents of each revolting method. The zealous acolytes of Vice-President Dick Cheney were talking about ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’ as if we were being kinder and gentler now. Consider one favourite of CIA interrogators much used in the early days of the Afghanistan invasion: someone who dared talk to another detainee held in the frigid mid-winter cages of Bagram air force base would be hung up by his wrists, handcuffed to the metal fence so that he could barely stand on the tips of his toes.

handcufffenceDoes that sound like torture? Perhaps not, until a doctor explains how the shoulders gradually dislocate, amid intense pain. The method is so effective that a recalcitrant prisoner could be persuaded to give a confession that might end in his own execution. For this reason, it was employed by the Spanish Inquisition, who called it Strappado. I began to use this word, and was gratified some months later when The New York Times adopted my use of the term.

Next, I took a small historical liberty in describing a second technique as Reverse Strappado – I am not sure that the Spanish ever truly differentiated, though it is even more excruciating: this time, the prisoner’s hands are tied behind his back before he is hung from the wrists.

Waterboarding has a particularly ironic history when we trace the 21st century US practice. It is sometimes described as simulated drowning, yet this is misleading: it is a process of actual drowning. It may or may not be carried through to the point of death, at the election of the practitioner. Most commonly (what a tragedy to think that it has been common!), a cloth is placed over the face and water is poured over the victim so that he cannot breathe. Waterboarding has been widely used for several centuries, by the Spanish Inquisition, the Gestapo, Japanese torture squads, the Khmer Rouge, the Soviet secret police, Pinochet’s death squads, Mugabe’s hired thugs and, latterly, the democratically-elected government of the United States of America.

Waterboarding Middle AgesYet, perhaps it is the terminology that betrays the ultimate evil: the Inquisition were brutal but honest, calling it tortura del agua (‘water torture’). The Americans dressed it up when waterboarding Abu Zubaydah scores of times, referring to it as one of many ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’. That was doubtless designed to sound less savage, and give the Bush administration wriggle room to pretend that it was not actually violating the UN Convention against Torture.

But where did this Orwellian description originate? Did Dick Cheney coin the term? No. Indeed, when Adolf Hitler’s Gestapo waterboarded their victims, they referred to it as Verschärfte Vernehmung, which literally translates as ‘Enhanced Interrogation Technique’.

These specialised torture techniques should not obscure the purported utility of a good old-fashioned beating. Of course, the sophisticated sociopath will not call it anything so pedestrian. One Guantanamo euphemism is Forcible Cell Extraction (FCE), where half a dozen goons in Kevlar armour burst into a prisoner’s cell with batons and riot shields and pound him into the concrete floor. As recently as 2013, this was happening almost every day – and sometimes more than once – to my client Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held in the prison.”

Ah, The vaunted Progress of Humanity! – a rancidly perfumed recipe written with the tears, blood and ruined bodies of the tortured.  I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling *very* modern here in the 21st century.

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Waterboarding