Apes more deserving than Bulls

Last month Time Online reported that Spain is to become the first country to extend legal rights to apes. This is the result of a long process (I blogged about this in April 2006) but I had missed the news that Spain had implemented the proposal.

The Declaration on Great Apes consists of three main points:

  1. The Right to Life
  2. The Protection of Individual Liberty
  3. The Prohibition of Torture

Let’s start by saying that this is an excellent initiative. BUT it is amazing that this initiative comes from a country so closely associated with bullfights. Naturally animal rights acitivists must be very confused by these results.

Bullfight 1“, photo by Jiddle_L (CC by-nc-nd)

It’s obvious that Spain has decided to be strangely selective to which animals are worth protection and base the need for rights not on the ability to feel pain but rather with the animals closeness to humans (in genetic terms?) This approach is discriminatory and clearly a form of specie-ism, and the worst thing is that the only defences for the conservation of bullfighting is tradition and entertainment.

Torture Established

CNN reports that the organization Physicians for Human Rights have conducted clinical evaluations of 11 former detainees from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan. The report from Physicians for Human Rights shows that the prisoners have been tortured

“We found clear physical and psychological evidence of torture and abuse, often causing lasting suffering,” said Dr. Allen Keller, a medical evaluator for the study.

In a 121-page report, the doctors’ group said that it uncovered medical evidence of torture, including beatings, electric shock, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, sodomy and scores of other abuses.

The report is prefaced by retired U.S. Major Gen. Antonio Taguba, who led the Army’s investigation into the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in 2003. “There is no longer any doubt that the current administration committed war crimes,” Taguba says. “The only question is whether those who ordered torture will be held to account.”

The rights group demands:

• “Repudiate all forms of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”;

• Establish an independent commission to investigate and report publicly the circumstances of detention and interrogation at U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay;

• Hold individuals involved in torturing detainees accountable through criminal and civil processes; and

• Monitor thoroughly the conditions at U.S.-run prisons all over the world.

Torture and the Future

Torture and the Future: Perspectives from the humanities ( Critical Issues in America, January 2007 – June 2007) is a companion website to an exhibition at the UC Santa Barbara. The exhibition is filled with interesting events which unfortunately all take place over there. I would have loved to listen to some of the lectures and it is unfortunate that they are not available online. However the site also contains a very good links section filled with online recommended reading and other material of interest. This alone is well worth the visit.

Death Threats Against Blogger

Techie and editor Kathy Sierra has been intimidated into canceling her appearance at the ETech conference where she was going to present a keynote and hold a workshop. In her blog Creating Passionate Users she explains why. She has received threats of violence and death threats in comments on her blog and other blogs.

Read Kathy Sierra’s story on her blog (entry here). Hope that they catch the little shit (hiding behind anonymity) who writes anonymous threats and that Kathy will be back soon.

You can't say Prison

Say Guantanamo, and most people will think of human rights abuses and prisoners in orange clothes being mistreated, maltreated, denied basic human rights and denied legal representation. All this by a free democratic country. Karen Greenberg (Executive Director of the Center on Law and Security at the NYU School of Law and is the co-editor of The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib and editor of The Torture Debate in America.) writes an interesting note on the blog TomDispatch about how Gunatanamo may be addressed by the media.

It is very difficult not to think Orwellian thoughts about the control of language being the control of society.

  1. Guantanamo is not a prison.
  2. Consistent with not being a prison, Guantanamo has no prisoners, only enemies.
  3. Guantanamo is not about guilt and innocence — or, once an enemy combatant, always an enemy combatant.
  4. No trustworthy lawyers come to Guantanamo.
  5. Recently, at least, few if any reliable journalists have been reporting on Guantanamo.
  6. After years of isolation, the detainees still possess valuable information — especially today.
  7. Guantanamo contains no individuals — inside the wire or out.
  8. Guantanamo’s deep respect for Islam is unappreciated.
  9. At Guantanamo, hard facts are scarce.
  10. Guantanamo houses no contradictions.
  11. Those who fail to reproduce the official narrative are not welcome back.

Feeling all warm and fuzzy inside – knowing that these are the people claiming to be fighting for freedom and democracy worldwide…

(via Markmedia)

Are torturers evil?

It is very difficult to break out of some of one’s gut instincts. Since I was raised in the west, spoon-fed Hollywoodisms from my youngest days and all in the shadow of the cold war east-west mentality it is difficult to really get past some of the “facts of life”.

One such fact is that only evil people torture. Evil torturers fall into different categories such as (1) medieval (e.g. Spanish inquisition), foreign despot (e.g. Idi Amin), (3) total raving nutter (e.g. Hitler). Now despite the fact that I know that these simplifications are not true. Works by people such as Hannah Arendt (Eichamnn in Jerusalem) and Stanley Milgram (Obedience to Authority Study) show that acts of evil are conducted without much passion and by ordinary people.

Reports of torture being carried out by ordinary people systematically appear – and I am shocked. In particular since the organisation carrying them out is bringing democracy and attempting to win the hearts and minds of the people.

Why am I shocked? If I know that people are capable of evil? The only explanation I can think of right now is the lame idea of them and us. Stated simply evil people are them, we are good even though sometimes in error. How depressing that in the face of all the evidence I still cannot get beyond this gut reaction that they are evil while we are good.

Oh and don’t try to explain the whole thing away by speaking of a few bad apples at the Abu Ghraib prison. That simplification does not work. See for example an editorial in the New York Times (Only the Jailers are Safe, 20 December 2006, via Battleangel)

Donald Vance, a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Chicago, was a whistle-blower who prompted the raid by tipping off the F.B.I. to suspicious activity at the company where he worked, including possible weapons trafficking. He was arrested and held for 97 days â?? shackled and blindfolded, prevented from sleeping by blaring music and round-the-clock lights. In other words, he was subjected to the same mistreatment that thousands of non-Americans have been subjected to since the 2003 invasion.

The culture of cruelty (i.e. the acceptance or tolerance for evil deeds among organisations and in society) is spreading and the more we hear the more we accept. We become (as a society) de-sensitized and tolerant to suffering.

What is the point of fighting for democracy, rights and freedom if the methods used are cruel, inhuman and against democracy, rights and freedom? If we win this fight (against whom?) is it a victory worth having? Or will we like King Pyrrhus declare, after beating the Romans at Asculum (279 BCE) declare that a victory at such a cost is not worth having?

Monbiot on Torture

If my conscience were to have a name, then among the choices [for such a name] would be Monbiot. The author George Monbiot regularly publishes articles in The Guardian but even better he often (always?) posts these articles on his blog after a short while.

In his latest post â??The Darkest Corner of the Mindâ?? Monbiot writes about the effects of an innovative form of torture. The use of total sensory deprivation, in many cases, causes what Monbiot calls a social lobotomy. He describes it as the erasing of the human mind.

This â??newâ?? form of torture is practiced widely in larger American prisons and has found new practitioners among the interrogators employed in the war (another malapropism!) on terrorism.

Its chilling reading â?? it should be required reading.

Poisoning Hearts and Minds

You must have seen the books or heard the complaints about the US trying to figure out why they are so disliked (not only in Iraq). The US believed that they were liberators and were surprised how quickly they lost their liberation status. The operation to win the heats and minds of the people of Iraq has not worked and many wonder why.

But reading about the abuses caused by the military makes it easy to understand why the situation is going so badly. OK, so itâ??s a few bad apples you might argue. But unfortunately the few bad apples theory is wrong.

In a recent video posted to YouTube (watch it here) you can watch a scene where soldiers on a truck make children run for a bottle of water.  The scene is being filmed by one of the soldiers on the truck. Both the cameraman and the soldier holding the water are laughing and commenting on how far the children will run for water. Itâ??s a great joke for them.

The soldiers conduct, while not illegal was most definitely immoral and seemingly oblivious to the reality that these children actually live in, a reality that was largely caused by them.

It also yet another severe contradiction to our so called image as “liberators” of the middle east.

The mainstream media has yet to pick up on the story though the Pentagon is investigating the videos and the evidence is in the videos the soldiers posted themselves online that anyone can see, for the time being.

Not only did the soldiers involved behave in an unacceptable manner they thought their conduct was so acceptable and so humorous that they posted it online for the entire world to see.

(Dreams of Liberty)

OK so you still want to claim that it’s a few bad apples. No it is not. The soldiers thought the scene was so funny and that their prank would be appreciated by so many that they posted it on YouTube themselves. This is not a case of people doing something wrong and attempting to hide it.

The poison that is being spread in the minds of these children will not wash away easily. It makes you wonder what their feelings towards the west will be in thirty years from now.

Spineless Human Rights in Sweden

There was a time when the Swedish government dared to look any power straight in the eye and state loudly and clearly that crimes against humanity were wrong. Maybe our best time for this was when, in the Christmas of 1972, the Prime Minister Olof Palme spoke out against the US bombing of Hanoi comparing it with other great crimes against humanity. A position such as this led to a freeze in diplomatic relations. Since then the relations have been mended but not at the cost of our honour (a dangerous word, I know).

Today we sell whatever we can. And no matter whether the politicians are on the right or left the thought of taking a stand for that which is morally right is nowhere near the agenda.

On the 18 December 2001 Mohammed Alzery an Egyptian national seeking asylum in Sweden was picked up by Swedish Security Police and informed that his application for asylum had been rejected a few hours earlier. He was not allows to communicate with his lawyer or family, and within hours he was transported to Bromma airport. He was then handed over to some ten foreign (US and Egyptian) agents in civilian clothes and hoods and forcibly sent back to Egypt.

All this despite the fact that he had obviously been tortured and had reason to fear for his life.

How could the government do this? Well easy the asked the Egyptians to promise not to torture or kill him. When they agreed (all this in writing). The Swedes washed their hands of the affair.

The Swedes wrote: â??It is further the understanding of the Government of the Kingdom of Sweden that these persons will not be subjected to inhuman treatment or punishment of any kindâ?¦and further that they will not be sentenced to deathâ?¦â??The Egyptian Government responded in writing: â??We herewith assert our full understanding to all items of this memoire, concerning the way of treatment upon repatriate from your government, with full respect to their personal and human rights. This will be done according to what the Egyptian constitution and law stipulates.â??

How civilised. Its bullshit, everyone must have known it was bullshit, but so civilised. Which spineless Swedish civil servant typed this crap? Do you sleep at night? Or do you (I wish I could ask you – whoever you are – these questions in person one day) wake up screaming? You should you know…

Naturally he was tortured. He was then tortured again for telling the world he had been tortured. How can a state write the letter Sweden wrote? Simply by asking a state not to torture a specific individual is an admission that this kind of treatment occurs. Sweden played an active part in the torture – no Swedes actually did the dirty work, we simply outsourced it.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee says Sweden broke the international ban on torture for its actions. The Swedish government had already been criticised for the deportations, including the by the UNâ??s Torture Committee.

We have come a long, long way from when we looked superpowers in the eye armed only with our morality – and won.