For some years before the attacks of 9/11, the CIA had the Orwellian policy of ‘extraordinary rendition’ – that is, torture being ‘illegal’ in the US, the suspects would be sent to another country, like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan or the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, where the laws of torture are not as stringent. (America has a strong military presence in Uzbekistan because of its oil and natural gas deposits. Uzbekistan is notorious for its extreme torture techniques and human rights violations.) Some suspects have even been sent to Syria. That sponsor of terrorism does have its uses. (link here)

The policy of the rendition by the CIA of suspects was altered after 9/11 by George W Bush to allow the CIA to continue the practice without individual, case by case, approval. For the CIA, it was open slather. Rendition was originally approved under the Clinton administration. This was reported in the Washington Post in December, 2004. And early in 2005, Alberto Gonzales – the incoming US Attorney-General – advised President George W Bush that the Geneva Conventions on the questioning of enemy prisoners were ‘quaint’ and ‘obsolete’. (link here)

What happens in the everyday life of prisons and detention camps in America, Britain or Australia is anybody’s guess; but torture by proxy enables the ‘coalition of the willing’ to occupy the moral high ground – so beloved by John Howard and his colleagues. Torture is, of course, ‘un-Australian’.

Thanks to Greg Day

Thanks to Greg Day

For once, the Fairfax press has been quite vocal in criticising the American policy of rendition. (link here ) The Melbourne Age says ‘Turning a blind eye to torture is no way to fight terrorism.’ Whether this will have any effect on the Howard administration is doubtful – let alone the Australian public, most of whom are concerned with interest rates and the size of their mortgages.

The acceptance of torture goes to the very heart of the Australian political psyche. Gutless and temporising Kim Beazley will not support a Senate enquiry into the treatment of Mamdouh Habib, an Australian citizen who alleges he was tortured by US, Egyptian and Pakistan authorities. And Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, has accepted the denials that Habib was ever in Egypt and American denials that Habib was ever tortured in Guantanamo Bay.

But there are other important things to do with torture, apart from the scandalous cases of Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks.

In July 2002, the United Nations sought to strengthen the 1984 Convention against Torture amongst the members of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

The vote on the text of the protocol did not commit the country to accept it, but was merely a first step in recognising it. Of the thirty-five countries who were members of ECOSOC, ten abstained (including the US) and eight rejected the motion. Those who rejected the protocol were Australia, China, Cuba, Japan, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria and the Sudan. We found ourselves in illustrious company, as far as human rights were concerned. (link here)

Hilary Charlesworth, director of the centre for international and public law at the ANU, wrote a piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, criticising the Australian decision. This was followed by an angry media release from the National Assembly of the Uniting Church, who said, ‘This is a vote of shame.’ The National Assembly went on to say, ‘There is now a moral vacuum in this country.’ (link here)

In an interview on 26 July 2002, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, said that the decision to vote against the UN Torture protocol had nothing to do with detention centres. He said that we had nothing to hide. ‘I think I can comfortably say that there is no torture going on in Australian prisons.’ Mr Downer went on to say: ‘They [the UN officials]can just land at Melbourne Airport and get a taxi to Pentridge and just walk into Pentridge…’ (link here)

There is money in the torture trade. Since 1997, sales in torture weapons have been estimated at US$97 million. The main manufacturers are in the US and the UK. The main customers are Egypt, Libya, Russia, Pakistan, the former Soviet republics and Nigeria. Saudi Arabia, Russia, Taiwan and Israel prefer the US product. China is very active in the commerce of torture, and trade fairs have been held in Beijing.

In the US, the Department of Commerce has granted export licences for ‘control crime equipment’. Records are not kept as to the final destination of the gear.

From the torturer’s point of view, the latest welcome advances in stun and electro-technology are that they leave no marks on the victim’s body. The stun gun, the electric baton and the electric belly belt are a vast improvement on the rubber hose. Furthermore, such items are ideal for torture. Specialists in stun technology are Nova Products of Tennessee, Air Taser of Arizona and Stun Tech Inc of Ohio. (link here) Since the 1970s, America has led the way in stun, electro and chemical technology. As the CEO of one company said, ‘You can torture anybody with anything, but our products make it easier.’

The torture trade is very buoyant. Amnesty International research has revealed at least seventy eight (probably more) US companies that have manufactured, marketed, bought or sold electroshock devices. (link here) Amnesty released a report in 2001, Stopping the Torture Trade, highlighting the universal failure to control the expanding trade in, and use of, security equipment in leading to the use of torture. For example, more than nine tonnes of leg irons (an implement banned by the UN in the treatment of prisoners) were exported from the USA to Saudi Arabia in 2002. Saudi Arabia is, of course, America’s closest ally in the Middle East. Between 1997 and 2000, Saudi Arabia spent more than US$1 million a year merely on stun guns. (For what purpose? one must ask.) Other countries manufacturing in the torture trade are: Germany, Taiwan, France, South Korea, China, Mexico and Spain. (link here)

The path in torture commerce is labyrinthine. Sales of torture equipment, of one kind or another, include every tin-pot dictatorship in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Most of Europe is involved, and even such ‘respectable’ countries such as Australia have been cited in various reports. (link here)

In the UK, ICL Technical Plastics makes shock batons, which are supplied to China and the Gulf States; and British Aerospace’s Royal Ordnance supplies electric batons to the Saudis. (link here )

In the US, AEDC International Inc. of Oregon make restraint chairs; Taser International specialises in the advanced stun gun, the M26; and so it goes. According to Amnesty International, America exported US$20 million of shackles and electro-shock equipment in 2002. Most of it went to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf States.

Hiatts of Birmingham, UK, Peerless and Smith & Wesson – among many others in the US – manufacture handcuffs, leg irons and belly chains to the highest standards. Hiatts are particularly proud of their range of products, which includes ‘Nigger collars’. Their range goes all over the world. They have been in the manacle business since 1780. (links here & here)

Torture is a tool in international relations. In 2004, the Washington Post revealed the existence of a memo to the White House from the Justice Department, which justified the use of torture in the ‘battle against terrorism’. Two examples of Washington’s use of torture – in Iran, the CIA instructed SAVAK (the Iranian secret police) in torture techniques; and in the ‘School of the Americas’ South American military personnel are also taught the techniques of torture by the CIA. (link here)

Torture at the hands of the US military – or their sponsors – is still going on at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. (Ref. Vanity Fair, 2 February 2005)

Where does all this leave Australia? By being a member of ‘the coalition of the willing’, and by supporting American foreign policy at every turn, Australia is complicit in the use of torture.

The record of the Labor Party in this matter has been abysmal. ‘Bomber’ Beazley, who when he was Minister for Defence, liked to ride in tanks and wear steel helmets, has walked away from Mamdouh Habib, saying, ‘I’m not in the business of making this bloke a hero.’ And the ALP said nothing of any consequence about Australia’s voting against the UN 2002 protocol.

In this age of lies and misinformation, put about by politicians and their spin-doctors, it is difficult to know what is happening on the ground in Iraq, or any other place. One can only rely on first-hand reports from reliable sources. According to Michael Gawenda (The Age, March 8, 2005) terror suspects are ‘rendered’ by masked CIA operatives on a Boeing 737, parked on a runway at Glasgow Airport. This was alleged on the CBS TV program, 60 Minutes.

The issues of torture, the activities of the CIA and the loss of personal liberties in the ‘war on terror’ are a long way from the world of mortgage rates, the state of the stockmarket, rising fuel prices and the approaching football season; but one’s mind is drawn to the collapse of middle-class life and morals in Germany in the 1930s.

The War Profiteers website – click here.

‘The US military is funding development of a weapon that delivers a bout of excruciating pain from up to 2 kilometres away. Intended for use against rioters, it is meant to leave victims unharmed. But pain researchers are furious that work aimed at controlling pain has been used to develop a weapon. And they fear that the technology will be used for torture.’ 2 March, 2005 New Scientist

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