Tag Archives: Torture

June 26, 1987 (a Friday)

From Article 5 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights

On this date, the United Nation’s Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into effect. Since 1998, each anniversary has been observed as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. On this day, we pay deep respect and tribute to all those around the world who have suffered and endured the worst torture.

The Convention obliges States to make torture a crime and to prosecute and punish those guilty of it. It notes explicitly that neither higher orders nor exceptional circumstances can justify torture.

As of June 1998, the Convention had been ratified by 105 States. These States parties are required to report to the UN Committee against Torture, a human rights treaty body set up in 1987 to monitor compliance with the Convention and to assist States parties in implementing its provisions. The Committee is composed of 10 independent experts who serve in their personal capacity and are elected by States parties.

These 105 States parties to the Convention against Torture are: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, Belize, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Togo, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen, and Yugoslavia.

Notice that China is a signatory to the Convention against Torture. Sixty years have passed since China invaded Tibet in 1949. From then until 1979, a total of  1.2 million Tibetans were brutally killed and more than six thousand monasteries razed to rubble according to a report by the Central Tibetan Administration. The situation over the years hasn’t changed as the Chinese government continues to subject Tibetan people to various forms of physical and mental tortures depriving them of human dignity and freedom, which all people are entitled to, irrespective of caste, color, creed and religion, by virtue of being a part of the same global family, that is, humanity.

The 2008 peaceful protests in Tibet against the Chinese government’s cruel policy resulted in hundreds of deaths, thousands of imprisonments, involuntary disappearances, and severe injuries to hundreds of Tibetans. The year 2010 saw immense political suppression on influential Tibetans after the post-2008 peaceful protests across the Tibetan region.

Freedom House published a special report dated 1 June 2011 entitled Worst of the Worst: The Worlds Most Repressive Societies that provided data on the countries that received the lowest combined ratings for political rights and civil liberties from the highly respected human rights organization. Hundreds of thousands of human beings in these countries languish every day in prisons or labor camps — generally in subhuman conditions and subject to physical or mental abuse — purely for their political or religious beliefs. In particular, the report is designed to direct the attention of the UN Human Rights Council to states and territories that deserve investigation and condemnation for their widespread violations. The report identified the territory of Tibet as one of the ten “Worst of the Worst” political entities in terms of human rights abuses.

The brutal clamping down on influential Tibetans by the Chinese government is a futile attempt to diminish or end the public influence on Tibetan civic and intellectual leaders, writers, and artists. Despite the recent incidents of harsh crackdown on Tibetans in Amdo Ngaba and Kardze by Chinese authorities, Tibetan people continue to carry out peaceful protests to demand freedom. Tibetans’ spirit for freedom and justice has never been bogged by tortures, brutalities, intimidation, or coercion.

Question:  In light of its persistent and pervasive violation of human rights, why does the United States government continue to give the People’s Republic of China “most favored nation” (MFN) trade status?

April 24, 1863 (a Friday)

Abraham Lincoln

On this date, the Union Army of the United States issued General Order No. 100, signed and authorized by President Abraham Lincoln, which provided a code of conduct for federal soldiers and officers when dealing with Confederate prisoners and civilians during the American Civil War.  There was no document like it in the world at the time, and other countries soon adopted the code. In fact, its influence can be seen on the Geneva Convention.

The German-American jurist and political philosopher Francis Lieber was the principle civilian proponent and principle author of the order, and so it has come to be known as the Lieber Code of 1863.  It is also known as Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, or Lieber Instructions.  Its main sections were concerned with, among other things, how prisoners of war should be treated.  More specifically, it forbade the use of torture to extract confessions and described the rights and duties of prisoners of war and of capturing forces, to wit, Article 16:

Military necessity does not admit of cruelty–that is, the infliction of suffering for the sake of suffering or for revenge, nor of maiming or wounding except in fight, nor of torture to extort confessions.

Lieber consistently opposed the abuse of prisoners, and he quickly dispensed with the notion that captured Southern soldiers should be treated as criminals, traitors, or bandits. Instead, they were to be housed humanely and fed “plain and wholesome food.” Torture and public humiliation were forbidden, and chivalry was very much alive: To reward exemplary bravery and honor, captors could even return sidearms to enemy officers.

The irony of a Republican predecessor opposing torture of enemy combatants nearly 150 years before Bush the Second condoned the practice has not been lost on critics of Bush II. Of course, apologists for the more recent Republican president are fond of pointing out that in other areas, such as habeas corpus, Lincoln was hardly a paragon protector of rights and legal ethics. I fail to see how that exonerates Bush II for his deplorable behavior.

As David Bosco, an assistant professor at the American University School of International Service and a contributing writer to Foreign Policy magazine, has written in an article in The American Scholar entitled “Moral Principle vs. Military Necessity“:

Lieber and Lincoln proudly published their code, flawed and ambiguous though it was. The nation’s current leadership has preferred secret memoranda and strained interpretations. Too often now, the noble effort to expand and codify the international law that Lieber gloried in no longer appeals to the world’s most powerful state. For the good of international law and of the United States, that must change.

April 17, 1975 (a Thursday)

Khmer Rouge fighters celebrate as they enter Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975.

On this date, Phnom Penh in Cambodia fell under the control of the Khmer Rouge, the guerrilla group led by Pol Pot that was funded and fueled by Chinese Communists.  Pol Pot immediately directed a ruthless program to “purify” Cambodian society of capitalism, Western culture, religion, and all foreign influences.  He wanted to turn Cambodia into an isolated and totally self-sufficient Maoist agrarian state.  Foreigners were expelled, embassies closed, and the currency abolished.  Markets, schools, newspapers, religious practices, and private property were forbidden.   Members of the Lon Nol government, public servants, police, military officers, teachers, ethnic Vietnamese, Christian clergy, Muslim leaders, members of the Cham Muslim minority, members of the middle-class, intellectuals, and the educated were identified and executed.  Anyone who opposed was killed.

An undated photograph shows forced laborers digging canals in Kampong Cham province, part of the massive agrarian infrastructure the Khmer Rouge planned for the country.

The Khmer Rouge forced all city residents into the countryside and to labor camps. During the three years, eight months, and 20 days of Pol Pot’s rule, Cambodia faced its darkest days; an estimated 2 million Cambodians or 30% of the country’s population died by starvation, torture, or execution. Almost every Cambodian family lost at least one relative during this most gruesome holocaust.

Skulls of victims of the Khmer Rouge at the Killing Fields.

Perhaps the most notorious of the atrocities that occurred under the rule of Pol Pot occurred at Security Prison 21 (S-21), formerly the Tuol Svay Prey High School (named after a royal ancestor of King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia) in Phnom Penh.  The five buildings of the complex were converted in August 1975 into a prison and interrogation center by the Khmer Rouge regime.  All the classrooms were converted into cells. The windows were enclosed in iron bars and covered in barbed wire. The classrooms on the ground floor were divided into tiny cells, 0.8 x 2 meters each, for one prisoner. Female prisoners were housed on the middle floors and the upper-story classrooms were converted into mass cells.

S-21 Tuol Sleng Prison was formerly a school.

One of the administration offices belonged to Comrade Duch, a former teacher and the infamous commandant of S-21 who recently stood trial and eventually apologized for his crimes. Alongside Duch was a workforce of 1,720 staff, comprising prison warders, office personnel, interrogators, and general workers. Many of the sub-units of the prison were staffed by children between the ages of 10 and 15 who were specially selected and trained for their role. They became increasingly dissocialized and evil, and were exceptionally cruel and disrespectful towards the adult prisoners and staff. Children also formed the majority of the medical staff and were untrained.

From 1975 to 1979, an estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned at S-21 (some estimates suggest a number as high as 20,000, though the real number is unknown); there were only twelve known survivors.  At any one time, the prison held between 1,000 to 1,500 inmates.  They were repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates, who were in turn arrested, tortured, and killed.

Thousands of children died in S-21 Tuol Sleng.

The Khmer Rouge required that the prison staff make a detailed dossier for each prisoner.  Included in the documentation was a photograph.  Since the original negatives and photographs were separated from the dossiers in the 1979-1980 period, most of the photographs remain anonymous today.  The photographs are currently exhibited at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, located at the former site of S-21 in Phnom Penh. (Tuol Sleng in Khmer [tuəl slaeŋ] means “Hill of the Poisonous Trees” or “Strychnine Hill”.)

Prisoner Pon Ny, in leg chain (undated).

Every morning, all prisoners were ordered to pull their shorts down to the ankles so they could be inspected. Despite remaining shackled, they were then ordered to exercise by moving their legs and arms up and down. Prisoners were inspected four times a day to check their shackles weren’t loose.

Toilets consisted of small iron and plastic buckets and prisoners had to ask permission of the guards before relieving themselves. If they didn’t, they were beaten or whipped with electrical wire as punishment. They had to stay silent at all times unless being interrogated and risked electrocution if they disobeyed any of the many regulations.

Bathing consisted of a tube of running water poked through a window to splash water on them for a short time. This happened only every two or three days at most, sometimes as rarely as fortnightly. Unhygienic living conditions caused many prisoners to become infected with skin rashes and other diseases and no medicine was given for treatment.

On January 7, 1979, Vietnam invaded and freed the Cambodian people from Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. Six hundred thousand Cambodians fled to Thai border refugee camps. Fearful to return back to Cambodia, many Cambodians had no choice but to emigrate to the United States, France, or Australia.

Today, many people and organizations are educating the world about the Cambodian Killing Fields. Only through awareness will the world remember the lessons of the genocide, honor the memories of the 2 million killed, and promote peace and tolerance so as to not to relive the same dark days.

Suggested reading:

  • Haing Ngor and Roger Warner, Survival in the Killing Fields (New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003). [First published in 1987 as A Cambodian Odyssey by Macmillan Publishing Company.]

February 2, 1512 (Julian calendar/old style: a Monday)

Hatuey burned at the stake in Cuba.

Hatuey burned at the stake in Cuba.

On this date, the native American Taíno chief Hatuey (or Hathney) from the island of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic) was burned alive by the Spanish on the island of Caobana (now Cuba) — arguably the first martyr of heroic resistance against the centuries of colonial onslaught to come. Ironically, the Taínos were the people who had offered a peaceful welcome to Columbus in 1493. Although Cuba was not his birthplace, Hatuey is today remembered and exalted there as a national hero.

The Taíno leader’s death was instrumental in shaping the seminal beliefs of one man: Bartolomé de las Casas. He was a slave owner-turned-Bishop-turned-chronicler who raged a life-long battle against the murderous injustices meted out to South American indigenous peoples by the European colonists. As “protector of Indians”, de las Casas was one of the first missionaries to uphold the rights of the oppressed and protect the lives of indigenous peoples.

In 1511, Diego Velázquez had set out from Hispaniola to conquer the island of Caobana. He had been preceded, however, by Hatuey, who fled Hispaniola with a party of four hundred in canoes and warned the inhabitants of Caobana about what to expect from the Spaniards.

De las Casas later recounted a speech Hatuey had made after showing the Taíno of Caobana a basket of gold and jewels:

Here is the God the Spaniards worship. For these they fight and kill; for these they persecute us and that is why we have to throw them into the sea… They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters. Incapable of matching us in valor, these cowards cover themselves with iron that our weapons cannot break…

The Taíno people of Caobana could not believe Hatuey’s horrendous message, and few joined him to fight. Hatuey resorted to guerrilla tactics against the Spaniards, and was able to confine them to their fort at Baracoa. Eventually the Spaniards succeeded in capturing and executing him.

Before his execution, a Roman Catholic monk asked Hatuey if he would accept Jesus and go to heaven. De las Casas reported the incident:

[A] Franciscan monk, a holy man, who was there, spoke as much as he could to [Hatuey], in the little time that the executioner granted them, about God and some of the teachings of our faith, of which he had never before heard; he told him that if he would believe what was told him, he would go to heaven where there was glory and eternal rest; and if not, that he would go to hell, to suffer perpetual torments and punishment. After thinking a little, Hatuey asked the monk whether the Christians went to heaven; the monk answered that those who were good went there. The prince at once said, without any more thought, that he did not wish to go there, but rather to hell so as not to be where Spaniards were, nor to see such cruel people. This is the renown and honour, that God and our faith have acquired by means of the Christians who have gone to the Indies.

De las Casas saw, with rare insight, the ulterior motive of many conquistadors. Though the Spanish carried the Requerimiento – a royal document that outlined Spain’s divinely ordained right to sovereignty – into every battle, de las Casas believed that spreading the word of God was largely a ruse: an expedient mask. Ambition, not altruism, was the driving force; gold, not God, was their goal.

He believed that the conquistadors slashed and slaughtered their way like “ravening wild beasts” across the so-called New World not solely in homage to Christ, but to “swell themselves with riches”. He suspected they had crossed the Atlantic not only to spread the word of the Lord, but to find the gold that washed through the rivers of Amazonia and the minerals that lay beneath their rampaging feet. “Our work,” de las Casas said, “was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy.” The conquistadors destroyed lives and lands, and they told the Indians that to save their souls, they would need to become Christians.

"They made gallows just high enough for the feet to nearly touch the ground ... and they burned the Indians alive." Illustration by Theodor de Bry in "A Short Account of the destruction of the Indies."

“They made gallows just high enough for the feet to nearly touch the ground … and they burned the Indians alive.” Illustration by Theodor de Bry in “A Short Account of the destruction of the Indies.”

If the greed of the conquistadors knew no bounds, neither did the integrity and outraged courage of de las Casas. Revolted by the hypocrisy of men who proclaimed pious inspiration while distributing the horrors of hell, he was also influenced by a group of Dominican preachers who asked the conquistadors, “Tell me, by what right do you hold these Indians in such a cruel and horrible servitude? Are they not men?”

“So as not to keep criminal silence concerning the ruin of numberless souls and bodies that these persons cause,” de las Casas wrote, “I have decided to print some of the innumerable instances I have collected in the past and can relate with truth.” These truths, which became extensive writings about the mistreatment of the Indians – one of the most famous being A Short Account of The Destruction of the Indies he wrote in 1542 (published in 1552) – were instrumental in prompting King Charles V to issue his “New Laws” in 1542, which abolished slavery and the encomienda system, and resulted in the liberation of thousands of slaves.

Arguably the first white human rights’ activist in the Americas, de las Casas was driven not by a self-regarding agenda but by a deeply-rooted sense of justice. He knew the Indians were not inferior to their oppressors. He knew that “all the peoples of the world are men” – rational human beings, part of a single common humanity. “For all people of these our Indies are human… and to none are they inferior,” he said. However, the plight of the Indians did not lead even de las Casas to question the right to the land or the mission to Christianize.

References:

No-Touch Torture: January 24, 1997 (a Friday)

On this date, in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by The Baltimore Sun on 26 May 1994, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) declassified and released a heavily redacted version of its Vietnam-era training manual called “KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation — July 1963,” a comprehensive guide for teaching interrogators how to effectively create “a world of fear, terror, anxiety, [and] dread.” (Note: The word KUBARK was the CIA’s cryptonym for itself.)

The 1963 KUBARK manual was the result of years of research that began after the United States learned that American prisoners of war in Korea had been subjected to “mind-control” techniques by their captors. That history was immortalized in John Frankenheimer’s political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate (1962), which features a character who is “brainwashed” to become an assassin for an international communist conspiracy.

27 Apr 1966, Thanh Quit, South Vietnam -- A Vietnamese soldier threatens a Viet Cong prisoner with a knife during an interrogation.

27 Apr 1966, Thanh Quit, South Vietnam — A Vietnamese soldier threatens a Viet Cong prisoner with a knife during an interrogation.

Not to be outdone by a communist regime in the art of brainwashing, on 13 April 1953 CIA director Allen Dulles authorized the MK-ULTRA project, launching a decade of mind-control research. After years of conducting covert experiments, at times on unsuspecting Americans, using hallucinogenic drugs, electric shocks, and sensory deprivation, the agency apparently decided that the best methods for extracting information from detainees come through psychological torture. These methods were incorporated into the 1963 KUBARK manual. Joseph Margulies, a law professor at Northwestern University Law School in Chicago and author of Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power (2006), in an interview on 24 October 2007 said, “The CIA had funneled millions and millions of dollars into research after the Korean War culminating in this KUBARK Manual. And it has been correctly called the Bible of coercive interrogations.” The CIA then field-tested psychological torture on South Vietnamese civilians suspected of being Viet Cong sympathizers during the Vietnam War.

The CIA’s discovery of psychological torture was a counter-intuitive breakthrough — indeed, the first real revolution in this cruel science since the 17th century. Although seemingly less brutal, “no-touch” torture leaves deep psychological scars. The victims often need long treatment to recover from trauma far more crippling than physical pain, and the perpetrators can suffer a dangerous expansion of ego, leading to cruelty and lasting emotional problems.

President Kennedy and President Joao Goulart on a state visit to Washington April 4, 1962, a year before the US supported a coup to overthrow him and began spreading the KUBARK manual across Latin America.

President Kennedy and President Joao Goulart on a state visit to Washington April 4, 1962, a year before the US supported a coup to overthrow him and began spreading the KUBARK manual across Latin America.

The fear of Communist expansion into the Western Hemisphere grew rapidly after Fidel Castro’s 1959 victory in the Cuban Revolution. His victory not only prompted the 1964 U.S.-supported overthrow of democratically-elected Brazilian President Joao Goulart; it also encouraged the CIA to spread KUBARK across the continent to help prop up pro-U.S. governments. After the Brazilian coup, right-wing military leaders across Latin America began seizing control from democratically-elected governments with U.S. encouragement, School of the Americas degrees, and a copy of the CIA’s 1963 KUBARK manual.

Of course, CIA-supported subversive activities in Latin America actually began before the 1959 Cuban Revolution. On 27 June 1954, the democratically-elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán was overthrown by CIA-paid and -trained mercenaries, making way for the U.S. to install a series of military dictatorships that waged a genocidal war against the indigenous Mayan Indians and against political opponents into the 1990s. Arbenz’s offense was to confiscate unused land owned by the United Fruit Company to redistribute under a land reform plan and to pay compensation based on the vastly understated valuation the company had claimed for its tax payments. Arbenz “was not a dictator, he was not a crypto-communist,” said Stephen Schlesinger, an adjunct fellow at the Century Foundation and co-author of Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala (1999). “He was simply trying to create a middle class in a country riven by extremes of wealth and poverty and racism,” Schlesinger said.

Thanks to a mandatory declassification review request filed by MuckRock user Jeffrey Kaye, a less-redacted version of the KUBARK manual was made available by the CIA on 25 February 2014. Revelations from the new release include the CIA’s admission to doctoring detainees’ interrogations tapes, a practice it considered “effective” in making it seem as though the detainee had confessed, and using foreign intelligence services for detention and interrogation purposes. The references to foreign intelligence services mean that rendition is not a product of the post-9/11 world; it is a practice at least 50 years old. Supporting this, CIA ex-Deputy Counsel John Rizzo said in a recent Democracy Now interview that “[r]enditions were not a product of the post-9/11 era…renditions, in and of themselves, are actually a fairly well-established fact in American and world, actually, intelligence organizations.”

Also released on 24 January 1997 to The Baltimore Sun in response to the same FOIA request was the “Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual — 1983.” This CIA training manual details torture methods used against suspected subversives in Central America during the 1980s, refuting claims by the agency that no such methods were taught there.

The “Human Resource Exploitation” manual, which drew heavily on the language of the 1963 KUBARK manual, was altered between 1984 and early 1985 to discourage torture after a furor was raised in Congress and the press about CIA training techniques being used in Central America. Those alterations and new instructions appeared in the documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun, supporting the conclusion that authorities were well aware these abusive practices were illegal and immoral, even as they were being used then and after. A cover sheet placed in the manual in March 1985 cautions: “The use of force, mental torture, threats, insults or exposure to inhumane treatment of any kind as an aid to interrogation is prohibited by law, both international and domestic; it is neither authorized nor condoned,” but with the caveat that forms of torture and coercive techniques “always require prior [headquarters] approval” first.

Despite the revisions to the CIA’s “Human Resource Exploitation” manual in 1985, the practice of torture by that agency continued and, in fact, was expanded after 11 September 2001. The torture of detainees at the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba has been well documented and is common knowledge. Even Susan Crawford, the former Bush Administration’s top official for reviewing practices at Guantanamo, publicly admitted in January 2009 that torture happened there. “We tortured [Mohammed al-] Qahtani,” she said. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case [for prosecution].” In his memoir Decision Points (2010), George W. Bush states unequivocally that he authorized the torture, including waterboarding, of individuals held in U.S. custody. And on 24 July 2014, the European Court of Human Rights finally officially confirmed the fact, which the U.S. and European governments have sought to deny for more than a decade, that the CIA operated a secret torture center on Polish soil in the aftermath of the attacks on the U.S. on 9/11. In a historic ruling, the court concluded beyond reasonable doubt that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were held in secret and tortured by the CIA at a military base called Stare Kiejkuty in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. This is the first time that any court anywhere has ruled on the CIA’s secret prisons. Most of the abuses we’ve become far too familiar with through the above revelations — hooding detainees, stress positions, sexual humiliation, exposure to extremes of hot and cold, light and dark, sound and silence — are part of the comprehensive arsenal of techniques first institutionalized in the CIA’s 1963 KUBARK manual.

On 22 January 2009, a newly inaugurated President Obama promised to “return the U.S. to the moral high ground” by signing a series of executive orders. One ordered the closing of Guantanamo and secret CIA prisons; another prohibited torture and “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA. Nevertheless, Obama’s own Justice Department has continued to subject people facing terrorism-related charges in this country to prolonged pretrial solitary confinement and sensory deprivation — conditions that have been condemned by the international community as torture. Waterboarding may have ended, but the U.S. continues to torture terrorism suspects in American prisons.

Alarmingly, a 2011 FBI “primer” on overseas interrogations, which became public on 2 August 2012 as a result of a FOIA action taken by the American Civil Liberties Union, repeatedly and favorably cites and encourages FBI interrogators to read the CIA’s 1963 KUBARK manual. The primer’s title, “Cross Cultural, Rapport-Based Interrogation,” is ironic because it encourages FBI agents to request that detainees in foreign or military custody be put in isolation to prolong the detainee’s fear for interrogation purposes. The encouragement of fear-production through isolation is a disquieting sign that some elements of the CIA’s psychological torture model continue to have currency in the government, despite the scandalous record of U.S. prisoner abuse in the “war on terror” and the Obama administration’s pledge to end torture.

References:

January 20, 1692 (Julian calendar/old style: a Wednesday)

On this date [the year to Salemites was 1691, since the new year began on March 25 in those days] in Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (present-day Danvers, Massachusetts), Abigail Williams, age 11, and Elizabeth Parris, age 9, began having “fits” involving behavior such as blasphemous screaming, convulsive seizures, trance-like states, and mysterious spells. Soon Ann Putnam, Jr., age 11, Mercy Lewis, age 17, Mary Walcott, also age 17, and other Salem girls began acting similarly.

So began one of the most famous travesties of justice in history – the Salem Witchcraft Trials. The proceedings were notable for their lack of empirical reason, skepticism, and humanitarianism; they were instead based on superstition, ignorance, fear, and intolerance.

The Witch House, the home of Magistrate Jonathan Corwin in 1692.

In mid-February, unable to determine any physical cause for the symptoms and dreadful behavior, the physician William Griggs concluded that the girls were under the influence of an “Evil Hand” – Satan. Under pressure from the Reverend Samuel Parris and magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne to identify the source of their affliction, the girls named three women as witches: Tituba, the Parris’ Caribbean slave; Sarah Good, a homeless beggar; and Sarah Osborne, an elderly impoverished woman. On February 29, warrants were issued for their arrests.

Over the following weeks, other townspeople came forward and testified that they, too, had been harmed by or had seen strange apparitions of some of the community members. By the end of the witch hunt, more than 200 people had been accused of practicing witchcraft – the “Devil’s magic.”

To try the witchcraft cases, Governor William Phips on May 27, 1692 ordered the establishment of a Special Court of Oyer (to hear) and Terminer (to decide) for Suffolk, Essex, and Middlesex counties. The seven magistrates of this court based their judgments and evaluations on various kinds of intangible evidence, including direct confessions (some the result of torture), supernatural attributes (such as “witchmarks”), and especially the reactions of the “afflicted” girls. The latter involved spectral evidence, the appearance of the accused’s apparition or “specter” to an “afflicted” girl, and the test of touch, the sudden cessation of her fit after being touched by the accused witch. Spectral evidence was based on the assumption that a witch could send out his/her specter, an incorporeal being indistinguishable to those who could see them from the witch himself/herself. The specter had human powers of sight, hearing, speech, and touch and superhuman ones of locomotion, so it could torment and afflict the “saints” to lead them astray. The touch test was based on the assumption that the girl was made well by physical contact with the witch because it allowed the witch’s evil to flow back from the “afflicted” girl.

English courts, while recognizing the credibility of “spectral evidence,” refused to prosecute alleged capital offenses on the basis of “spectral evidence” alone. That was not the case in New England. During the witch trials the “afflicted” girls claimed that various people of Salem Town and Salem Village had appeared to them to lead them into witchcraft and to cast spells upon them. Furthermore, the girls claimed to see “specters” even in the courtroom. The magistrates accepted such evidence as credible and admissible for judgment and sentencing. Thomas Brattle described the court procedure in a letter he wrote (see below) to the General Court of Massachusetts in October:

First, as to the method which the Salem Justices do take in their examinations, it is truly this: A warrant being issued out to apprehend the persons that are charged and complained of by the afflicted children, (as they are called); said persons are brought before the Justices, (the afflicted being present.) The Justices ask the apprehended why they afflict those poor children; to which the apprehended answer, they do not afflict them. The Justices order the apprehended to look upon the said children, which accordingly they do; and at the time of that look, (I dare not say by that look, as the Salem Gentlemen do) the afflicted are cast into a fitt. The apprehended are then blinded, and ordered to touch the afflicted; and at that touch, tho’ not by the touch, (as above) the afflicted ordinarily do come out of their fitts. The afflicted persons then declare and affirm, that the apprehended have afflicted them; upon which the apprehended persons, tho’ of never so good repute, are forthwith committed to prison, on suspicion for witchcraft….

Gallows Hill

The first case brought to the special court was Bridget Bishop, an older woman known for her gossipy habits and promiscuity. She was tried on June 2 and, on June 10, became the first person hanged on what eventually became known as Gallows Hill. Troubled by this event, Governor Phips consulted the ministers of Boston, including Increase Mather and his son, Cotton. They wrote the Return of the Ministers Consulted, in which they advised caution in the witchcraft proceedings but concluded:

Nevertheless, we cannot but humbly recommend unto the Government the speedy and vigorous prosecution of such as have rendered themselves obnoxious, according to the direction given in the laws of God, and the wholesome statutes of the English nation, for the detection of witchcrafts.

Five people were sentenced and hanged in July, five more in August and eight in September. One accused witch (or wizard, as male witches were often called) was pressed to death on September 19 because he refused to enter a plea to the charges of witchcraft against him. On October 3, after 20 people had been executed in the Salem witch hunt, the Reverend Increase Mather, who was the father of Cotton Mather and then president of Harvard College, delivered a sermon entitled Cases of Conscience concerning Evil Spirits Personating Men, in which he denounced the use of spectral evidence – the girls’ visions – and said:

It were better that ten suspected witches should escape than one innocent person be condemned.

On October 8, 1692, Thomas Brattle, a merchant, mathematician, astronomer, and Fellow of the Royal Society, wrote an eloquent letter (quoted above) criticizing the witchcraft trials and convictions to the members of the General Court. This letter and Increase Mather’s Cases of Conscience apparently had great impact on Governor Phips, who on October 12 prohibited further imprisonments for witchcraft. On October 26, the General Court dismissed the Court of Oyer and Terminer, and on October 29, the Governor formally dissolved it. On November 25, 1692, the General Court created the Superior Court of Judicature to try the remaining witchcraft cases, but spectral evidence was now disallowed. This time, only 3 of 56 defendants were condemned, and Phipps pardoned them along with five others awaiting execution. In May 1693 Phips pardoned all those who were still in prison on witchcraft charges. They were free – provided they could pay their jail bills.

On August 25, 1706, Ann Putnam, Jr. publicly apologized in Salem Village Church for causing the deaths of innocent people and said it was due to a “great delusion of Satan.” Eventually, the colony admitted the trials were a mistake and compensated the families of those convicted. However, Massachusetts did not formally apologize for the events of 1692 until 1957 – more than 250 years later.

The tragic events in Salem Village in 1692 clearly illustrate why alleged supernatural entities or forces are no longer admissible in legal proceedings as evidence of the guilt or innocence of the accused. The Enlightenment, beginning in the late 1680s, contributed to the end of witchhunts throughout Europe and America by pointing out that there was no empirical evidence that alleged witches caused real harm and by emphasizing that the use of torture to force confessions was inhumane. The Enlightenment also resulted in replacing superstition with science, which does not use supernatural entities or forces to explain natural phenomena – such as the bizarre behavoir of Abigail Williams and Elizabeth Parris.

References:

October 24, 1901 (a Thursday)

On this date, when U.S. Marines landed in Samar during the Philippine-American War (referred to by Filipinos as the Philippine War of Independence and sometimes patronizingly referred to as the Philippine Insurrection by the U.S.), Brigadier General Jacob Hurd Smith (“Hell-Roaring Jake”) issued his murderous orders:

I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn. The more you kill and burn the better it will please me.

Zen stones
This bloody Philippine-American War, which began in 1899 and officially ended in 1902 (although sporadic fighting continued until 1913), resulted from the foreign policy of a group of imperialists within the Republican Party of President William McKinley. After their quick victory in the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States military found themselves playing the part of an occupying army on the Philippine Islands. A Filipino independence movement had been working to overthrow their Spanish colonizers for years. Emilio Aguinaldo, the charismatic leader of the movement, provided critical aid to the Americans during their war with Spain. However, when U.S. armed forces did not withdraw from the islands and the U.S. government did not recognize Philippine independence, Aguinaldo and his compatriots rose up against the United States. Although General Aguinaldo was captured on March 25, 1901, there followed no mass surrender of other Filipino revolutionary generals. Fighting went on.

“I am not afraid, and am always ready to do my duty, but I would like someone to tell me what we are fighting for.”–Arthur H. Vickers, Sergeant in the First Nebraska Regiment

According to Luzviminda Francisco, the Philippine-American War was a forgotten war in the U.S. annals. American textbooks contain several pages on the Spanish-American War but only devote a paragraph on the Philippine-American War despite the fact that the latter was more pronounced in terms of duration, scale, and number of casualties. The war was ugly, ruthless, and brutal, prompting Stanley Karnow to describe it as “among the cruelest conflicts in the annals of Western imperialism.” Other scholars refer to the conflict as the United States’ “first Vietnam.” Luzviminda estimates that as many as 126,000 American soldiers, or 3/4 of the U.S. army, were shipped to the Philippines, and at least 600,000 Filipinos died during the war. American anti-imperialist Mark Twain claimed that the number of Filipino casualties was close to one million or the equivalent of 1/6 of the country’s total population at the turn of the century. He famously wrote:

. . .There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it — perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands — but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector — not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now — why, we have got into a mess, a QUAGMIRE from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I’m sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation. . . 

Some American infantrymen were equally mystified by what was taking place:

“Talk about dead Indians! Why, they are lying everywhere. The trenches are full of them…There is not a feature of the whole miserable business that a patriotic American citizen, one who loves to read of the brave deeds of the American colonists in the splendid struggle for American independence, can look upon with complacency, much less with pride. This war is reversing history. It places the American people and the government of the United States in the position occupied by Great Britain in 1776. It is an utterly causeless and defenseless war, and it should be abandoned by this government without delay. The longer it is continued, the greater crime it becomes – a crime against human liberty as well as against Christianity and civilization…” –Theodore Conley, 20th Kansas Regiment

Aguinaldo in white with sword

During the war, torture was resorted to by American troops to obtain information and confessions. The “water cure” was given to those merely suspected of being rebels. Some were hanged by the thumbs, others were dragged by galloping horses, or fires lit beneath others while they were hanging. Another form of torture was tying to a tree and then shooting the suspect through the legs. If a confession was not obtained, he was again shot, the day after. This went on until he confessed or eventually died. On the other hand, Filipino guerrillas chopped off the noses and ears of captured Americans in violation of Aguinaldo’s orders. There were reports that some Americans were buried alive by angry Filipino guerrillas. In other words, brutalities were perpetrated by both sides.

Freedom fighter killed by Americans for being pro-democracy (stereoview).

In 1901, the U.S. commander at Balangiga on the Island of Samar had sent troops out to destroy crops and grain reserves, to keep such food from flowing into the hands of the insurgents; he had also ordered all males over the age of thirteen, at gun-point, to work at clearing brush and repairing the streets of the town. The people of Balangiga revolted in reaction to their abuse at the hands of the Americans — an American garrison in the town of Balangiga was attacked between 6:20 and 6:45 in the morning of 28 September 1901 by the local population, with the support of the local police chief and members of the insurgency. Fifty-four of the seventy-eight American troops stationed at Balangiga were killed; only four escaped uninjured. The massacre shocked the U.S. public and many newspaper editors noted that it was the worst disaster suffered by the U.S. Army since George Armstrong Custer’s “last stand” at the Little Big Horn in 1876. Brigadier General Jacob Smith was given the task of crushing the resistance on Samar and exacting revenge for the deaths of the American soldiers at Balangiga.

At the beginning of the campaign when officers had gathered at the site of the Balangiga Massacre, Smith told Marine Major Littleton W. T. Waller:

I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better it will please me. I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States.

Since it was a popular belief among the Americans serving in the Philippines that native males were born with bolos in their hands, Waller asked, “I would like to know the limit of age to respect, sir?”

Ten years,” Smith said.

“Persons of ten years and older are those designated as being capable of bearing arms?”

“Yes.” Smith confirmed his instructions a second time.

Smith's infamous order - Kill Everyone Over Ten - was the caption in the New York Journal cartoon on May 5, 1902.

Smith would later send Waller a written order “that the interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness.” However, aware of Smith’s penchant for making outrageous oaths and the extravagance of his language, Waller therefore did not execute Smith’s orders. Instead, Waller applied the rules of civilized warfare and the rules provided under General Orders No. 100 of 1863 dealing with irregular warfare (involving non-uniformed combatants), which stated that if enemy units gave no quarter and became treacherous upon capture, it was lawful to shoot anyone belonging to that captured unit.

Nevertheless, a sustained and widespread massacre of Filipino civilians followed. As a result of Smith’s policies during the four and half month-long campaign, an estimated 15,000 Filipinos died on Samar.

References:

  • Teodoro A. Agoncillo, A Short History of the Philippines, New American Library, 1969.
  • Bob Couttie, Hang the Dogs: The True and Tragic History of the Balangiga Massacre, New Day Publishers, 2004.

The Ends do not Justify the Means

Scales of Justice

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am thoroughly disgusted with conservative (and even some not-so-conservative) pundits in the media who this past week have been trying to absolve those in the U.S. Government who attempted to legalize the torture of suspected terrorists at various detention centers after 9-11. For example, on MSNBC Joe Scarborough regarding torture said “Let’s not be self-righteous” because on 9-12 he believed “we need to do whatever we have to do” and “I’ll be damned if 300 million Americans didn’t say the same thing.”

In view of the fact that nowhere near “300 million Americans” said the same thing (I certainly did not), Joe’s argument goes like this: At that time (post 9-11), torture was necessary to prevent further loss of American lives even though torture is illegal (Title 18 of the U.S. Code makes it a crime for an American to commit torture “outside the United States” and authorizes fines and prison terms of up to 20 years — if deaths result, those convicted may be jailed for life or executed) and a violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Geneva Conventions, which the U.S. had ratified (the treaties that the United States enters into become part of the law of the United States, and the Supreme Court has recently reaffirmed that status for the Geneva Conventions); therefore, according to Joe, everyone should be excused and no one should be prosecuted for allowing torture to be used on detainees.

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First, leaving aside the issue of whether torture ever yields useful information, the idea that the circumstances at the time justified breaking the law is reprehensible when advocated by officials whose sworn duty was to enforce the law and uphold the Constitution. President Bush himself bears primary responsibility for torture for his February 7, 2002, memo arbitrarily suspending the Geneva Conventions that protect prisoners of war:

I determine that common Article 3 of Geneva does not apply to either al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. … I determine that Taliban detainees … do not qualify as prisoners of war under Article 4 of Geneva … and that al Qaeda detainees also do not qualify as prisoners of war.

A key architect of the “new paradigm” torture policy was White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales, subsequently Attorney General, who signed a torture memo dated January 25, 2002:

…the war against terrorism is a new kind of war. It is not the traditional clash between nations adhering to the laws of war that formed the backdrop for GPW [the Geneva Convention III on the Treatment of Prisoners of War]. The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured [suspected] terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians, and the need to try terrorists for war crimes [but if you say they aren't prisoners of war, how can they be guilty of war crimes?] for wantonly killing civilians. In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions…

On December 2, 2002, according to author Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld formally approved coercive treatments such as “hooding,” “stress positions,” “exploitation of phobias,” “deprivation of light and auditory stimuli” and other tactics long forbidden by the U.S. Army Field Manual.

Regardless of the public animosity toward suspected terrorists in custody at that time, they had and still have human rights. Is anyone aware that the reason the United States supported and agreed to the Geneva Conventions after World War II in the first place was to ensure that AMERICAN SOLDIERS would never be tortured by the other side in future conflicts? As Secretary of State John Foster Dulles stated at the time, America’s participation in the conventions was needed “to enable us to invoke them for the protection of our nationals.”  Similarly, Senator Mike Mansfield stated that “it is to the interest of the United States that the principles of these conventions be accepted universally by all nations.”  He explained that American

standards are already high.  The conventions point the way to other governments.  Without any real cost to us, acceptance of the standards provided for prisoners of war, civilians, and wounded and sick will insure improvement of the condition of our own people as compared with what had been their previous treatment.

Senator Alexander Smith concurred:

I cannot emphasize too strongly that the one nation which stands to benefit the most from these four conventions is our own United States…To the extent that we can obtain a worldwide acceptance of the high standards in the conventions, to that extent we will have assured our own people of greater protection and more civilized treatment.

When North Vietnam insisted that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to American POWs because they were “pirates,” President Nixon demanded — and had the moral authority to demand — that Hanoi apply them. On the 50th anniversary of the Conventions, Senator John McCain stated that he and his fellow POWs would have fared “a lot worse” without the Geneva Conventions’ protections against “the cruel excesses of war.”

The same argument made by Joe Scarborough could have been made about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  In 1949, Joe could have said “Let’s not be self-righteous” because on 12-7 he believed “we need to do whatever we have to do” and “I’ll be damned if 134 million Americans didn’t say the same thing.”

Leaving aside the fact that none of these Japanese-Americans were a threat to the security of the United States, Joe would argue that confining them in concentration camps was necessary to prevent further loss of American lives even though their internment was a violation of the U.S. Constitution (specifically, the rights to due process and habeas corpus); therefore, Joe would say, everyone should be excused and no legal prosecution or remedy should be sought or permitted.

Horse stalls at Tanforan that were transformed into living quarters for Japanese-American internees.

Of course, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was an outrageous violation of human rights the day it happened — it is still unfathomable to me that it ever happened in this country. But wartime hysteria prevailed.  An editorial in the Los Angeles Times from the period fumed: “A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched — so a Japanese-American, born of Japanese parents — grows up to be Japanese, not an American.”  Journalist Westbrook Pegler wrote, “The Japanese in California should be under armed guard to the last man and woman right now and to hell with habeas corpus until the danger is over.”  Key government leaders agreed with this view. They decided to imprison people without evidence or trials, denying their constitutional rights because of their ancestry. This policy was carried out on the West Coast of the United States, but not in Hawaii.

The ethical principle here is elementary though incomprehensible to self-righteous conservatives: The ends do NOT justify the means.