That's just sick

Via Neatorama came a small report about the artist Wim Delvoye who has done lots of cool stuff. The towards the end of the article was this:

Wim is a vegetarian, but he has a pig/art farm outside of Beijing in China. He’s not thinking of bacon, however – Wim has other plans for his swine: he tattoos them! (He said that the pigs have better, longer lives than those raised for food).

I realise that this may make statements about the consumer society and the way in which we treat animals but I still really dislike the fact that the man tattoos animals. This, to me, is another example of an artist using animals to create “shock value” in order to move the jaded art scene into a reaction. It still does not make it art not does it make it right. And what the hell was the monoumentaly stupid comment that the pigs were happy and that he was a vegetarian about?

That an animal is more happy than another animal (how is this measured?) does not make abusing it a legitimate act. The fact that the artist refuses to eat meat does not legitimize his torment of animals. Just sick. As it happens it also may be pointless from a novelty point of view since he is not the first artist to tattoo pigs.

Why should work like this be dignified with the name art – isn’t it just animal abuse on a more premedited and cruel scale?

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.

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)

Back in Sweden

Just returned from the London trip which went very well. I gave two lectures and a seminar at the London School of Economics. The first and second (same lecture on two different days) was on Internet Civil Disobedience. The focus was on the use of Internet technology in acts of civil disobedience with a focus on  denial of service attacks. The seminar was on the Democratic Effects of Attempts to Regulate Internet Technology – this is basically my thesis work and the discussion is on the negative effects that attempts to regulate the Internet have on democratic participation via the Internet. Both lectures and the seminar went very well.

The rest of the time was spent both in meetings and in a well deserved relaxation. As usual London offered the opportunity for lots of interesting new additions to my reading list. Besides the two mentioned earlier (Peter Singerâ??s One World: The ethics of globalization and a book edited by Roth, Worden and Bernstein called Torture: Does it make us safer? Is it ever OK? A Human Rights Perspective). I came across John Pilger Freedom Next Time (a fantastic book I have already read half of it – it is a wake up call for anyone who wants to see the way in which mainstream media stifles important stories relevant to human rights.

Insurrection: Citizen Challenges to Corporate Power (by Kevin Danaher and Jason Mark), From ACT UP to the WTO: Urban Protest and Community Building in the Era of Globalization (Benjamin Shepard and Ronald Hayduk Eds) and Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (James C. Scott) are three books which are highly relevant to my resistance work.

The list is nicely rounded up by Peer-to-Peer: Harnessing the Power of Disruptive Technologies (Andy Oram editor) and Computer Ethics and Professional Responsibility (edited by Terrell Ward Bynum and Simon Rogerson).

To me this is a very exciting list of books the only problem is to find the time they deserve to be able to read the properly. To me book shopping in London is not really about the large and wonderful bookstores that contain everything. I tend to get lost among so many books, become indecisive and leave empty handed. I much prefer the eclectic mix to be found in good second hand or remainder bookstores.  These also have the additional benefit of being really cheap. The most expensive among this list was Pilger’s book which cost only 8 pounds for a new hardback.

Something about London

There is something about London, the energy, the masses of people and sheer scale of experiences makes it a wonderful place to be. Yesterday was spent in tourism mode. Walking around familiar streets taking in the sights, sounds and feel of the city. Naturally I managed to squeeze in a couple of bookstores even though I was very modest in my shopping. Only two books! Peter Singerâ??s One World: The ethics of globalization and a book edited by Roth, Worden and Bernstein called Torture: Does it make us safer? Is it ever OK? A Human Rights Perspective. I had seen both of these books before but was pleasantly surprised to find them both in a remainder bookstore.

Technology and Human Rights

On Friday it’s time for me to give a lecture on Technology and Human Rights for the local masters course on human rights. The nice part about this lecture is that it gives me the opportunity to collect and explore different strands of my work and present them to a new audience. My interest in this area began some time ago and resulted in 2005 in the collected edition Human Rights in the Digital Age which I edited together with Andrew Murray.

Discussing technology and rights can at times feel a bit banal. Human rights activists struggle to free people from torture and death so isn’t technology a small waste of time? There is no way in which it would be fair to compare technology and rights to the work of activists against the death penalty. But there is a major problem if all issues must be resolved in the order of magnitude. Speech rights may be less important to someone facing the death penalty but this does not mean that we should ignore speech rights until we have managed to abolish the death penalty.

For the lecture on Friday I am planning to look at three different areas.

The first area is going to be the use of the Internet as a “place” for political participation. I want to discuss the Internet as an area of political discourse and in particular show its possibilities and its fundamental flaws and limitations. This area should include freedom of speech and freedom of association.

The second area is privacy. In particular I want to focus on the merging of online and offline data. Or to put it another way the combination of spatial information (where you are) with the information traces stored in databases (who you are) to show the advanced control mechanism being created.

The final area is the aggregate use of technology. In this section I want to show the audience that with each piece of technology we may implement for our comfort we also form and shape our lives. In particular we also shape the way in which our lives may be controlled by others. This incremental implementation of technology does not bring large protests since no large rights are threatened overall. However the net long term result is darker than anything Orwell would have dreamed about.

Eric Drooker

The overall goal is to make the audience a bit paranoid about technology – to make them question the choices we are all making in our rush towards a more convenient way of life. Not bad for a Friday…

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.

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.