Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: torture

The UK and Torture

Almost ten years ago, David Miliband, then UK foreign secretary, was making great efforts to prevent GOSL from completing its imminent victory over the LTTE. Simon Jenkins in the Guardian accused him of “pipsqueak diplomacy”. I published an article suggesting that Miliband should be tried for war crimes. This is why. When Miliband became foreign secretary in June 2007, there were already allegations about possible British involvement in torture. Jack Straw, not Miliband, was foreign secretary at the time that Britain was helping Libyans and others to be tortured but, as David Miliband was personal advisor to Tony Blair while Labour was in opposition and played a major role in the election victory of 1997, it seems unlikely that he was unaware of what was happening. He certainly played a very active role in covering up torture.

In 2011, the UK government paid £ 2.2m compensation to Sami al-Saadi. He was an opponent of Quadaffi and claimed that in 2004 he and his family were detained by MI6 and handed over to authorities in Libya, who tortured him. Documents show that MI5 gave Tripoli reports and phone numbers relating to Libyan dissidents living in Britain. The compensation payment did not constitute an admission of guilt.  A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “There has been no admission of liability and no finding by any court of liability.”

Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife, Fatima Boudchar, did get a fulsome apology. Fatima was pregnant when the couple was detained by the CIA in Thailand and deported to Malaysia in February 2004 on their way to London. Mr Belhaj claims that MI6 sent a fax to the Libyan intelligence services informing them of their detention. They were flown to Tripoli, blindfolded, hooded and shackled to stretchers. Mr Belhaj alleges he suffered four years of torture and isolation. On May 10, 2018 Theresa May apologized to them and said the British government was “profoundly sorry” for their “appalling treatment.”

Binyam Mohamed is an Ethiopian UK resident who spent seven years in US custody. He returned to the UK in 2009 after all charges were dropped. Human rights lawyer Philippe Sands represented him. After being captured, Mohamed was first taken to Pakistan and tortured by Pakistani guards while being interrogated by US and UK intelligence officers. He was then taken to Morocco. Another human rights lawyer, Gareth Pierce, wrote in the London Review of Books: “British intelligence and the Americans and Moroccans for 18 months slashed the most intimate parts of his body with razors, burned him with boiling liquids, stretched his limbs causing unimaginable agony, and bombarded him with ferocious sound.” Binyam Mohamed claimed Moroccan interrogators tortured him by using scalpels or razor blades to repeatedly cut his penis and chest. He spent 18 months in Morocco and was then taken to the Dark Prison in Afghanistan where he was kept in total darkness and tortured for another six months. He then spent four years in Guantanamo. MI5 supplied questions to his interrogators

 

 

Sands criticized Miliband’s judgment in making efforts to keep this case quiet and to defend and lose many other cases which could have been dealt with by other means. Miliband must have “seen documents that showed that MI5 officers knew a British resident had been tortured yet continued to provide questions via the CIA”. Sands claimed: “The evidence now available, much of which emerged from those cases, indicates a colourable (legally valid) case in support of claims that Britain was complicit in torture after 9/11.“ Miliband personally approved some interrogations involving countries with poor human rights records.

 

This issue has come to light again following the release on 28 June 2018 of two reports by the parliamentary intelligence and security committee. The reports say the overseas agency MI6 and the domestic service MI5 were involved in 13 incidents where UK personnel witnessed at first hand a detainee being mistreated by others, 25 where UK personnel were told by detainees that they had been mistreated by others and 128 incidents recorded where agency officers were told by foreign liaison services about instances of mistreatment. In 232 cases UK personnel continued to supply questions or intelligence to other services despite mistreatment. The committee found three individual cases where MI6 or MI5 made or offered to make a financial contribution to others to conduct a rendition operation. In 28 cases, the agencies either suggested, planned or agreed to rendition operations proposed by others. In a further 22 cases, MI6 or MI5 provided intelligence to enable a rendition operation to take place. Britain is not a virgin when it comes to torture. See: https://pcolman.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/britain-teaches-the-world-to-torture/

 

 

Jack Straw said: The report also shows that where I was involved in decisions I consistently sought to ensure that the United Kingdom did act in accordance with its long-stated policies, and international norms.”

 

Theresa May said: ““We should be proud of the work done by our intelligence and service personnel, often in the most difficult circumstances, but it is only right that they should be held to the highest possible standards in protecting our national security.”

 

That’s OK then!

 

 

More on Torture

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday March 3 2015.

Colman's Column3

President George W. Bush : Look, I’m going to say it one more time…. Maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you. We’re a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at these laws, and that might provide comfort for you.  —Sea Island, Georgia, June 10, 2004

There have been a number of reports on the use of torture by the USA. There was a heavily redacted 2004 report from the Office of Professional Responsibility in the Department of Justice. In 2007, the ICRC (Red Cross) published its Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody. The ICRC said in the introduction, “that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the fourteen adds particular weight to the information provided.” There was a Senate Armed Services Committee report from 2008 about how the military used torture. There was a recent Senate report, or rather an executive summary, on CIA torture. There have been a dozen reports on torture practised at Abu Ghraib.

There is still no comprehensive public report on how the executive branch made decisions about torture.  Former US Vice-President Dick Cheney described the recent Senate report as “full of crap”. Cheney will have none of the argument that GW Bush was ignorant of the methods used by the CIA. “He was in fact an integral part of the program. He had to approve it before we went forward with it. I think he knew everything he needed to know and wanted to know about the program.” At one meeting, John Ashcroft, then attorney general, demanded of his colleagues, “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.”

These days we hear mealy-mouthed euphemisms, such as “alternative set of procedures”. The CIA, even after the damning Senate report, maintains that its “enhanced interrogation techniques” did not constitute torture. In the early days after 9/11, words went unminced. The CIA was already talking about torture before they even had a suspect on whom to practise.

The CIA did very little if any research about what kind of torture would work. There is no discussion springing from the need to torture particular people such as prisoners in hand who are unwilling to talk. Talk of torture itself started very soon after 9/11, when “high-value” detainees were not available.

When they did have someone to practise on, they went at it with a will. Abu Zubaydah, a thirty-one-year-old Palestinian from Gaza, was captured in March 2002 in Pakistan. Initially, he did provide some useful information  – that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks, and that José Padilla was plotting to become a  dirty bomber. However, that was down to the FBI not the CIA (although they claimed credit) and the information did not come from torture. Two experienced FBI interrogators who had fluent Arabic and deep knowledge about al-Qaeda used traditional “rapport-building” techniques.

The CIA had Abu Zubaydah in their clutches first but were too dumb to realise how important he was. Afterwards, they attributed too much importance to him, convincing themselves he was the third or fourth man in al-Qaeda. In reality, he was not even a member of al-Qaeda, merely  a travel agent for al-Qaeda.

FBI expert Ali Soufan objected strenuously to rank amateurs like former military psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen taking over the interrogation.  FBI people who knew what they were doing without torture pulled out of the questioning leaving it to amateurs using a “black site” in Thailand. The CIA were diverted by their misguided conviction that Abu Zubaydah was withholding information about attacks that would have killed thousands of people. They believed they had to torture him so that he would reveal information to justify their use of torture. Their use of torture was because he had not revealed any such information.

They deprived Abu Zubaydah  of sleep for 180 hours and waterboarded him eighty-three times, the last two sessions against the strenuous objections of the on-site interrogators, who judged correctly that he was completely compliant: he just had nothing more to reveal. He was mostly naked and cold, “sometimes with the air conditioning adjusted so that, one official said, he seemed to turn blue.” Zubaydah told the story himself. When loud music no longer played, “there was a constant loud hissing or crackling noise, which played twenty-four hours a day”. “I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. I was also repeatedly slapped in the face….”. They put him in a black box. “As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds.” Eventually, a doctor stopped the torture. “I was told during this period that I was one of the first to receive these interrogation techniques, so no rules applied. It felt like they were experimenting and trying out techniques to be used later on other people.”

Testimony from others who were tortured supports this. A clear method emerges from these accounts, based on forced nudity, isolation, bombardment with noise and light, deprivation of sleep and food, and repeated beatings.

CIA Director George Tenet regularly told the highest government officials specific procedures to be used on specific detainees. Shortly after Abu Zubaydah was captured, according to ABC News, CIA officers “briefed high-level officials in the National Security Council’s Principals Committee,” including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who “then signed off on the [interrogation] plan.”

The CIA justified the torture of Abu Zubaydah as a success because their brutal techniques allowed them to alleviate their anxiety about how much he really knew. They did not get any more information through torture but eventually convinced themselves that he had no more information.

Articles in the Washington Post and the New York Times revealed a secret world of black sites, prisons on military bases around the world, into which kidnapped people disappeared. “We don’t kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them”. Extraordinary rendition meant the detainee shackled at hands and feet was transported to the airport by road and loaded onto a plane. Earphones would be placed over his ears, through which music would sometimes be played. He would be blindfolded with a cloth tied around the head and black goggles. The journey times ranged from one hour to over thirty hours. The detainee  and had to urinate and defecate into a diaper.

The US corrupted the world with this programme. A report by the Open Society Justice Initiative  shows that 54 countries, including Ireland, helped to facilitate the CIA’s secret detention, rendition and interrogation programme. They participated in by hosting CIA prisons on their territories; detaining, interrogating, torturing, and abusing individuals; assisting in the capture and transport of detainees or permitting the use of domestic airspace and airports for secret flights transporting detainees.

The CIA’s former acting general counsel, John Rizzo, was involved in the programme from the start until 2009. He had a career at the CIA since the 1970s and was a main author of the 2001 Memorandum of Notification to the president that gave the CIA broad power to torture. Bush (pace Cheney’s recent comments), according to the intelligence committee report, was not briefed in detail on the actual techniques until 2006. The original authorization for the torture programme seems to have come from the Memorandum of Notification, a presidential document drafted by the CIA itself and signed by Bush on September 17, 2001.

An internal CIA draft letter to the attorney general sought a formal declaration that there would be no prosecutions of torturers.  When the Justice Department’s Criminal Division refused to provide immunity, the CIA lied to the Justice Department and found lawyers who would do their bidding. John Yoo, the author of the original torture memo, told the Office of Professional Responsibility that he would not have judged waterboarding legal if he had known the truth about how brutal it was.

In 1994, the US signed the Convention against Torture. This not only prohibits torture but also requires that it be investigated and punished. On his second day in office, Obama announced plans to close the Guantánamo detention facility within a year and to end immediately George W. Bush’s authorization of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”.  Although Obama once famously commented that “we tortured some folks” and that “I believe waterboarding was torture”, he has taken no action against the torturers. There are obvious avenues for investigation and possible prosecution, though the Obama administration shows no interest taking them.

This avoidance means that, practically speaking, torture remains an option for policymakers rather than a criminal offense. CIA director John Brennan has explicitly refused to rule out the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques under a future administration. The message to future presidents facing a serious security threat is that the prohibition of torture can be ignored without consequence. Abusive security forces from around the world are likely to take heart from that precedent as well.

Michael White was lambasted when he wrote in the Guardian: “it is also a day of redemption for the American system of imperfectly accountable government and that country’s many enemies should remember that as they hurl bricks and demand the prosecution of offenders”.

In his recent book Pay Any Price, investigative journalist James Risen described two of the most consequential aspects of American national security policy after September 11: the organized torture of al-Qaeda suspects in secret CIA prisons and the mass surveillance of communications by Americans carried out by the National Security Agency. There is a third consequence- attempts to muzzle the media. The Department of Justice prosecuted and imprisoned about half a dozen press sources for disclosing classified information  about mass surveillance and torture.

At his first inauguration, Barack Obama rejected “as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Fine words. Risen writes:  “The rush to transform the United States from an open society to a walled fortress, prompted by the 9/11 attacks and propelled by billions of dollars spent on homeland security”, has left little room for serious public debate about “how best to balance security, civil liberties and freedom of movement. It is no longer much of a debate—security always wins.”

Torture Part One

This article appeared on Page 10 of  Ceylon Today on Wednesday January 21 2015.

Colman's Column3

 

Something invented by the Marquis de Sade or Hieronymus Bosch. The Guardian.

 

Prisoners were subjected to “rectal feeding”; this is a medieval technique in which the intestines are inflated with a viscous material to cause severe intestinal pain. The “lunch tray” for one detainee, which contained hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins, was pureed and pushed into his rectum. Rectal examinations were conducted with “excessive force”. One prisoner was later diagnosed with anal fissures, chronic haemorrhoids and “symptomatic rectal prolapse”. This sounds like sadistic rape and sodomy.

 
Detainees were forced to stand on broken limbs for hours, kept in complete darkness, deprived of sleep for up to 180 hours, sometimes standing, sometimes with their arms shackled above their heads. There were mock executions and Russian roulette. Interrogators revved power drills near prisoners’ heads. They threatened to slit the throat of one detainee’s mother, sexually abuse another and threatened prisoners’ children. One prisoner died of hypothermia brought on by being forced to sit naked on a bare concrete floor. At least 39 detainees experienced techniques like “cold water dousing” – different from the quasi-drowning known as waterboarding.

 
These horror stories come from a recently published report from the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The investigation took four years and cost $40 million. The Senate report claims the CIA repeatedly lied about a programme involving brutal techniques employed after 9/11. The Senate committee published nearly 500 pages of its investigation into the CIA’s detention and interrogation programme during the Bush “war on terror”. The full report is over ten times longer, so a great deal is still hidden from the public. What we have is bad enough.

 
Exactly 119 detainees were held at CIA sites in various countries from 17 September 2001 to 22 January 2009. Of all those who were held and interrogated, 22 per cent were found to be innocent. There was no process for freeing them. At least 17 detainees were tortured without approval from CIA headquarters. Some CIA officers were said to have been reduced “to the point of tears” by witnessing the treatment meted out to one detainee.

 
Privatisation of Pain

True to the neo-liberal ethos of the Washington Consensus, the hands-on coalface work of torture was contracted out to private enterprise. The main men are named in the report as “Grayson Swigert” and “Hamilton Dunbar”. In reality, these were two psychologists called James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. The private company they set up had a contract with the CIA which earned them $81m. The company office, two floors bug-proofed and equipped with high security doors, was at 108 Washington Street, Spokane, in Washington State. At the Fairchild Air Force base on the outskirts of Spokane, the doctors had worked on programmes to train Special Forces in resistance to torture, how to cope with the type of interrogation they might face if captured. Their sales pitch to the CIA was that if they could teach US forces not to talk, they had the techniques to get information out of prisoners. In truth, they had no experience in military interrogation, neither had any specialised knowledge about al-Qaeda – neither had “relevant cultural or linguistic expertise”. A CIA officer said no “professional in the field would credit” the doctors’ judgments “as psychologists assessing the subjects”. They were both accused of “arrogance and narcissism”. They were more than back-room boffins. According to the report, “The psychologists personally conducted interrogations of some of the CIA’s most significant detainees using these techniques.”

 
Hypocrites and Hippocrates

The Hippocratic Oath enjoins doctors to “do no harm”. The American Medical Association endorsed a set of professional codes stating that doctors should not participate in torture directly or indirectly. They also have a duty to document it and report it, going outside the chain of command if necessary.

 

The Senate report clearly shows that doctors were responsible for actually designing the torture programmes and that several “medical officers” enabled and supervised torture as it was being inflicted. CIA medical officers used their intimate knowledge of the human body to harm people the US government deemed enemies.
Dr Steven Miles is a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, a board member of the Center for Victims of Torture, and author of Oath Betrayed: America’s Torture Doctors. His website tracks doctors who participate in torture around the world. He says that, firstly, doctors design methods of torture that do not leave scars. They are also involved in trying to prevent prisoners dying and, thirdly, they falsify medical records and death certificates to conceal the injuries of torture.

 
Dr Miles says: “Essentially the doctors and psychologists were built in to the entire torture system. They weren’t simply bystanders who were called in to respond when the system went off the rails.“

 
Public Support?

A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that Americans, by a 59-31% margin, believe that CIA “treatment of suspected terrorists” in detention was justified. A plurality deemed that “treatment” to be “torture,” by a 49-38% margin.

 
In May 2009, the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life found that the more religious an American is, the more likely he or she is to support torture. When poll respondents were asked, “Do you personally think the CIA treatment of suspected terrorists amounted to torture, or not?” most Americans said the abuses did not constitute torture. However, non-religious Americans who were more easily convinced that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” were, in fact, torture.

 
Most Christians, were in favour of torture. Non-religious Americans were one of the few subsets that opposed the torture techniques – and that includes breakdowns across racial, gender, age, economic, educational, and regional lines.

 
Ineffective As Well As Wrong

No compelling evidence has ever been put forward to show that torture can produce reliable intelligence. Human memory is fallible and the techniques used – typically causing stress, pain, sleep deprivation, or confusion – might have been specifically designed to produce unreliable information. The intelligence and military communities have long accepted this. The Intelligence Science Board provided scientific guidance to the US intelligence community. The US Army’s Training Manual, states: “The use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”

 
Ali Soufan, a former FBI special agent with considerable experience interrogating al-Qaeda operatives, told Time magazine: “When they are in pain, people will say anything to get the pain to stop. Most of the time, they will lie, make up anything to make you stop hurting them. That means the information you’re getting is useless.”
The Senate report definitively squashes the claim that torture generated intelligence that prevented further terrorist attacks and saved lives. Tortured detainees either disclosed nothing, or supplied fabricated information, or revealed information that had been already been discovered through traditional, non-violent interrogation techniques.

 

It seems that the main purpose of torture is to satisfy the desire to hurt the person you assume has done something bad.

 

Obama and Torture

David Bromwich, author of, essays on ethics and politics, wrote about the Senate report in the London Review of Books. He looked at President Obama’s stance: “He denounced torture and implied, early on, that the practices fomented by Bush and Cheney fitted the international definition of torture; yet Obama also told workers at the CIA, in early 2009, that under no circumstances would they be prosecuted. He paired the words of responsible acknowledgment with a policy of non-accountability. This show of forbearance was high-sounding in its way – hate the crime, pardon the criminal – but if it makes a generous line to take with vices such as a gambling habit or heavy drinking, the hands-off resolution seems radically unsuited to crimes such as rape, torture and murder”.

 
Impunity

Bromwich again: “The promise of impunity that has greeted the lawless conduct of government officials obeys the ancient maxim fac et excusa. The deeds in fact are free to recur because the excuses are potentially limitless. We are all patriots – Obama’s word for CIA interrogators – and under enemy attack, we respond as patriots do.” Bromwich says we cannot fathom the motives of these “patriots”. Sadistic self-indulgence may have played a part. “A principle such as an unconditional ban on torture is tested precisely by its observance in a fear-engendering crisis. If your belief in the principle gradually disintegrates, it was never a solid belief.”

 
Conclusion

Michael White, writing in The Guardian, drew hundreds of outraged comments when he wrote: “ it is also a day of redemption for the American system of imperfectly accountable government”. There was much resistance to accountability. The CIA declined, in the words of Senator Dianne Feinstein, to “compel its workforce to appear before the committee”. Almost all the Republicans in Congress, with the distinct exception of John McCain, opposed the publication of the findings.

 
In 2002 ,the New York Times planned to publish a story about a secret prison in Thailand, but Cheney persuaded them to suppress it. Cheney symbolises the malignancy that took over the American psyche. According to Bromwich Cheney’s evil was grounded in psychotic fear, with which he contaminated a huge nation: “His words and actions testify to a personal fear so marked that it could project and engender collective fear.”

 
There is a law in the U.S. against torture but there is no sign of prosecutions because the techniques were declared legal at the time. As Dr Miles says: “it was a matter of a structured system of complicity. This has greatly harmed the US medical community’s ability to speak on behalf of doctors who are protesting torture around the world.”

 
“Torture is wrong, torture is always wrong. Those of us who want to see a safer and more secure world, who want to see extremism defeated, we won’t succeed if we lose our moral authority, if we lose the things that make our systems work and countries successful”. David Cameron said that.

 
More next week about torture in other countries, including Britain.

Reconciliation in El Salvador

 

Economic Disparities

From the early 1970s, there was conflict in the Central American republic of El Salvador as a result of great disparities between rich and poor. There was  a  resurgence of guerrilla activity which the government countered with death squads, which killed 687 civilians in 1978 and 1,796 in 1979.  The Revolutionary Government Junta took power  in a bloodless coup in October 1979 and  made promises to improve living standards, hold free elections, and put an end to human rights violations.

US-Funded Barbarity

The US began offering large-scale military and economic support. For over 20 years, Latin American officers were  trained at the notorious US Army School of the Americas. In 1996,  the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals from the School. These manuals advocated targeting civilians, extra-judicial executions and torture. In one training exercise trainees act out the murder of a local priest.

In 1980, government forces murdered at least 11,895 people, mostly civilians. On December 2, 1980, the National Guard raped and murdered four American nuns. In 1981, government forces killed at least 16,276 unarmed civilians. Military death squads wiped out entire villages. In December, 1981, the military killed 1,000 in the village of El Mozote. The US denied reports of these atrocities.

Failure to implement reforms provoked the five main guerrilla groups to unite into the   Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). The death squads forced many civilians  to flee to the US but most were denied asylum. The US-assisted plan was to burn all vegetation, including subsistence crops, and  to destroy everything that might be of use to those who opposed the Salvadoran armed forces.

The London Sunday Times reported that Menendez de Iglesias, was arrested in September 1985 by U.S. officials, “handed over to the Salvadoran Treasury Police and repeatedly raped and tortured while in detention and further questioned by U.S. officials while in custody.”

Baptist Carter Wages War on Catholic Church

When we see the venerable and saintly Jimmy Carter roaming the world doing good in 2012, let us not forget that he was the US president who began funding the Salvadoran sadists and he  refused  Archbishop Oscar Romero’s request to cut US military aid to El Salvador. Romero was assassinated while saying mass in 1980. At Romero’s funeral, government snipers in killed  forty-two mourners. Carter ignored the Archbishop’s plea and authorized $5.7 million in military assistance to “strengthen the Army’s key role in reforms.”

In one of its last acts, the outgoing Carter administration increased military aid to the Salvadoran armed forces to $10 million, claiming  that the regime had taken “positive steps” to investigate the murder of the American nuns; this was disputed by US Ambassador, Robert E. White, who said that he could find no evidence the junta was “conducting a serious investigation.”

Reverend Daniel Santiago, was a Catholic priest working in El Salvador. He reported:

“People are not just killed by death squads in El Salvador — they are decapitated and then their heads are placed on pikes and used to dot the landscape. Men are not just disembowelled by the Salvadoran Treasury Police; their severed genitalia are stuffed into their mouths. Salvadoran women are not just raped by the National Guard; their wombs are cut from their bodies and used to cover their faces. It is not enough to kill children; they are dragged over barbed wire until the flesh falls from their bones while parents are forced to watch. There is a purpose to all of this. … Sadomasochistic killing creates terror in El Salvador. Terror creates passivity in the face of oppression. A passive population is easy to control. Why the need to control the peasants? Somebody has to pick the coffee and cotton and cut the sugar cane.”

Remember Father Santiago’s words when next you hear Jimmy Carter pontificating about human rights. This devout Christian president funded and gave immoral support to what many have interpreted as a war against the Catholic Church in El Salvador, which promoted “liberation theology” and defended the poor.

On 16 November 1989, the US-backed Atlacatl Battalion summarily executed  six Jesuit priests. In the middle of the night, the six priests, and their housekeepers,  were dragged from their beds and then shot in the head. “They were assassinated with lavish barbarity” said the Rev. Jose Maria Tojeira, the Jesuit Provincial for Central America. “For example, they took out their brains.”

Blowtorch Bob

Major Roberto D’Aubuisson Arrieta, can stand as a symbol of the horrors that the US funded in El Salvador. He was known as “Blowtorch Bob” because of his interrogation techniques. D’Aubuisson was the master-mind  of the death squads. There is little doubt that he was responsible for the assassination of Archbishop Romero. He lost a presidential campaign in 1984 to Jose Napoleon Duarte. In 1992, D’Aubuisson died at 47 of oesophageal cancer. He was never tried for any of his crimes.

Peace

This most uncivil of wars ended on 16 January 1992, when the Chapultepec Peace Accords were signed. The Comisión de la Verdad para El Salvador was a truth commission established by the UN to investigate and report on human rights abuses during the civil war. The Commission received testimony from 2,000 people in relation to 7,000 victims, and gathered information from secondary sources related to more than 8,000 victims. In addition, 23,000 written statements were received. The commission selected 13,569 cases and highlighted 32 cases which illustrated the patterns of violence by the combatants in the war. On March 15, 1993, the commission published its report From Madness to Hope: the 12-year war in El Salvador. Five days later the legislative assembly approved an amnesty covering all the violent events of the war.

The complaints attributed almost 85 percent of the violence to State agents, private paramilitary groups, and the death squads. In its conclusions, the Commission called for an end to impunity. “Acts of this nature, regardless of the sector to which their perpetrators belong, must be the object of exemplary action by the law courts so that the punishment prescribed by law is meted out to those found responsible.”

The Commission recommended systemic changes: “In order to avoid any risk of reverting to the status quo ante, it is essential that El Salvador establish and strengthen the proper balance of power among the executive, legislative and judicial branches and that it institute full and indisputable civilian control over all military, paramilitary, intelligence and security forces”.

Did Reconciliation Work?

In an academic paper, Ruth Velasquez Estrada contends that the amnesty law  closed what little space there had been for attaining symbolic retributive or restorative justice. However, she believes that  “remembering” and “creating” communities have become part of a contestation against  the socio-political polarisation based on ideological discourses serving the interests of political parties. She argues that, despite some claims of continuing political polarisation in El Salvador, many former army and guerrilla combatants are coexisting in the same communities and working together in various ways, and a space has opened up for the recreation of social networks and the creation of post-war communities. She calls this process “grassroots peacemaking” .

El Salvador Today

In 2010, El Salvador celebrated the 18th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accords. President Mauricio Funes gave a  speech addressing important issues of human rights and accountability and asked forgiveness, in the name of the state, of those who were victims of the armed conflict. Mr Funes, who was elected in 2009, is a leader of the former rebel movement, the FMLN. The government has taken a number of important steps on impunity and human rights.  Investigations into police and government corruption have been launched, with suspensions and several arrests. President Funes honoured the six Jesuit priests and their two companions who were murdered in 1989.

In March 2011, President Obama visited El Salvador and met Mr Funes who, despite his left-wing roots, does not share the suspicion and hostility towards US imperialism expressed by other  Latin American leftists such as Hugo Chavez.

A common thread in these articles has been that reconciliation, whatever truth-telling talky-talk  goes on, is fragile if economic inequality and abuses of human rights persist. This is true in El Salvador today. Only last week, Robert Lorenzana, FMLN deputy and vice president of parliament, warned that conditions for a coup are being generated. The economic crisis has hurt El Salvador.  Crime has continued to be a major problem; homicide rates have risen . The  government has been criticized, by the human rights community and the business community, for not introducing a comprehensive and effective anti-crime plan. A military crack-down might be a temptation.

These are still dangerous times.

Obama Tortured by British Shock!

The London Times reported a while ago that  Hussein Onyango Obama, Barack Obama’s paternal grandfather, was arrested in 1949 by the British during the Mau-Mau uprising in Kenya and subjected to horrific violence which left him permanently scarred and embittered against the British. He worked as an army cook but became involved in the independence movement aimed at overthrowing colonial rule.

“The African warders were instructed by the white soldiers to whip him every morning and evening till he confessed,” Sarah Onyango, 87, Hussein Onyango’s third wife, the woman President Obama refers to as “Granny Sarah” said. “He said they would sometimes squeeze his testicles with metallic rods. They also pierced his nails and buttocks with a sharp pin, with his hands and legs tied together with his head facing down,”

Onyango served with the British Army in Burma during the Second World War. Although a member of the Luo tribe from western Kenya, he sympathized with the Kikuyu Central Association, which evolved into the Mau Mau. Mrs Onyango said that her husband had supplied information to the insurgents. “His job as cook to a British army officer made him a useful informer for the secret oathing movement.”

Mr Onyango was probably tried in a magistrates’ court on charges of political sedition or membership of a banned organization, but the records do not survive because such documentation was routinely destroyed in British colonies after six years.

British involvement in Kenya began late in the 19th century when at the Berlin Conference of 1885, European nations carved up the African continent. East and southern Africa fell under the British sphere of influence. In 1888, the Imperial British East Africa Company was granted a Royal Charter to administer East Africa until, in 1895 the British government established a Protectorate.

Kenyan society was clearly divided along racial lines during colonial rule. White Europeans dominated politics, economics and were at the top of the social scale. Asians occupied the middle levels of society. They were mainly involved in small-scale agriculture and industry, retail, trade, skilled and semi-skilled labour and generally worked in the middle level of the civil service. Africans, who formed the majority of the population, were mostly poor farmers and had very little say in how Kenya was run.

The occupation of land, particularly in the Kikuyu areas of the cool central highlands, by European settlers had long been a source of bitter resentment. By 1948, 1.25 million Kikuyu were restricted to 2,000 square miles, while 30,000 white settlers occupied 12,000 square miles of the best agricultural land.

Settler farming was uneconomic, supported by government subsidies for most of the colonial period, whereas early Kikuyu cash-crop farming was efficient and undercut settler prices. But Africans were soon banned from growing tea, coffee, and sisal, and a minimum price set for maize removed their advantage. Some Kikuyu were allowed to occupy land as tenant farmers with no legal rights on white settlers’ farms, which had been their homes, in exchange for their labour. The real income of these Kikuyu fell by about 40% during the period 1936 to 1946 and fell even more sharply after that. The settlers demanded ever more labor and further restricted access to land in an attempt to turn the tenant farmers into laborers. Overstocking, soil erosion, and hunger spread. “Improvements”, like the digging of terraces by female forced labour, were bitterly resented.

Thousands migrated to Nairobi whose population doubled between 1938 and 1952. By 1953, almost half of all Kikuyu had no land claims at all. The results were worsening poverty, starvation, unemployment and overpopulation.

After World War II, there was an increase in the number of white settlers in Kenya. Most were demobilised British officers who hoped to benefit from the comfortable lifestyle that was available to them and their families. Black Africans who had served with British forces during the Second World War returned home to Kenya with hopes for a better life. I have met the spoilt offspring of some of these creatures.

There was a civil war among the Kikuyu because some Kikuyu managed to retain their land and forged strong ties with the British. Divide and rule.

The Mau Mau were able to be portrayed as savages by the British because of lurid tales of oaths which included promises to kill, dismember and burn settlers and rituals which included animal sacrifice or the ingestion of blood. There were rumors of cannibalism, congress with goats, orgies, ritual places decorated with intestines and goat eyes.

A State of Emergency was declared in October 1952. Troops arrested nearly 100 Kenyan leaders, including future president Jomo Kenyatta. In the first 25 days of Operation Jock Scott, 8,000 people were arrested. The British fielded 55,000 troops in total over the course of the conflict, although the total number did not exceed more than 10,000 at any one time. The majority of the security effort was borne by the Kenya Police and the Tribal Police/Home Guard. Over the course of the conflict, some soldiers either could not or would not differentiate between Mau Mau and non-combatants, and reportedly shot innocent Kenyans. Many soldiers were reported to have collected severed rebel hands for an unofficial five-shilling bounty,

The small numbers of British troops, a high degree of popular support for the rebels, and the low quality of colonial intelligence gave the Mau Mau the upper hand for the first half of 1953. Over 1800 loyalist Kikuyu (Christians, landowners, government loyalists and other Mau Mau opponents) were killed. The Mau Mau mainly attacked at night, emerging from the forests. They attacked isolated farms, but occasionally also households in suburbs of Nairobi. Only the lack of firearms prevented the rebels from inflicting severe casualties on the police and European community.

In 1954, Nairobi was put under military control. Security forces screened 30,000 Africans and arrested 17,000 on suspicion of complicity, including many people who  were later revealed to be innocent. About 15,000 Kikuyu were interned and thousands more were deported to the Kikuyu reserves in the highlands west of Mount Kenya. Entire rebel leadership structures, including the Council for Freedom, were swept away to detention camps and the most important source of supplies and recruits for the resistance evaporated. The authorities repeated the exercise in other areas so that by the end of 1954 there were 77,000 Kikuyu in concentration camps. About 100,000 Kikuyu squatters were deported back to the reserves.

One British colonial officer described the labour camps thus: “Short rations, overwork, brutality, humiliating and disgusting treatment and flogging – all in violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights.” Cholera swept through the camps. Official medical reports were ignored, and the British lied about conditions in the camps.

Atrocities were committed on both sides. Mau Mau militants were guilty of human rights violations, and many of the murders of which they were guilty were brutal in the extreme. More than 1,800 Kenyan civilians are known to have been murdered by Mau, and hundreds more disappeared, their bodies never found.

Kenya’s whites saw the killings by the Mau Mau as irrefutable proof of African barbarism, but Africans were engaging in practices perfected in Europe. Galician serfs hacked their Polish landlords to pieces in 1846; Spanish peasants used the scythe and the axe on latifundista families in the civil war; Ukrainian peasants did the same or worse to their better-off neighbors between 1941 and 1944.

In January, 1953, Mau Mau murdered a white couple and their six-year-old son on their farm with knives. Many settlers sacked all their Kikuyu servants. Europeans, including women, armed themselves with any weapon they could find, and in some cases built full-scale forts on their farms.

In March 1953, 1,000 rebels attacked a loyalist village, where 170 non-combatants were hacked or burnt to death. Most of them were the wives and children of Kikuyu Home Guards serving elsewhere. In the weeks that followed, some suspected rebels were summarily executed by police and loyalist Home Guards, and many other Mau Mau implicated in the massacre were brought to trial and hanged.

Only 32 British civilians were killed by Mau Mau militants. The number of Mau Mau fighters killed by the British was about 20,000, and large numbers of Kikuyu not directly involved in the rebellion were persecuted. Lawyers acting for Kenyans suing for compensation have documented about 6,000 cases of abuses including fatal whippings, blindings and rapes.

A British officer, describing his exasperation about uncooperative Mau Mau suspects during an interrogation, explained that:

“I stuck my revolver right in his grinning mouth and I said something, I don’t remember what, and I pulled the trigger. His brains went all over the side of the police station. The other two Mickeys [Mau Mau] were standing there looking blank. I said to them that if they didn’t tell me where to find the rest of the gang I’d kill them too. They didn’t say a word so I shot them both. One wasn’t dead so I shot him in the ear. When the sub-inspector drove up, I told him that the Mickeys tried to escape. He didn’t believe me but all he said was ‘bury them and see the wall is cleared up.’”

Many settlers took an active role in the torture of Mau Mau suspects, running their own screening teams and assisting British security forces during interrogation. Many white settler volunteers ran the concentration camps. Mrs. Katharine Warren-Gash—who liked to think of herself as a “white Kikuyu,” ran the women’s camps at Kamiti. There they were interrogated, whipped, starved, and subjected to hard labour, which included filling mass graves with truckloads of corpses from other camps. Many women gave birth at Kamiti, but the infant death rate was overwhelming. The women buried their babies in bundles of six at a time. Mrs. Warren-Gash brought the archbishop of Mombasa to Kamiti, where he conducted a mass oath-cleansing ceremony in person.

Neil Ascherson, in the New York Review of Books, described an encounter he had in Cyprus in the late 1950s. “Pordy Laneford had come from Kenya. He sat on his hotel bed, a chinless wonder with watery blue eyes and a small moustache, and chatted about himself. He was even younger than I was. Pordy had been named after a Devonshire trout stream which ran past his family home, a bankrupt farm (as he described it) run by a military father who collected medals and taught his children about the Empire. Pordy also took up medal-collecting and Empire. He signed up with the Rhodesian police. But soon, to his surprise, he was discharged ignominiously for torturing an African suspect. He looked around for ‘something which was good fun and sort of helped to hold the Empire up.’ In Kenya, the Mau Mau rebellion had begun, so Pordy joined the infamous Kenya Police Reserve, the paramilitary force recruited mostly from white settlers. He explained to me how important it was to kill captured suspects at once, without waiting for the ‘red tape’ of trials and witness statements. ‘Killing prisoners? Well, it’s not really the same thing, is it? I mean, I’d feel an awful shit if I thought I’d been killing prisoners.’”

“I had met other Pordys before, in different parts of the Empire. It was that schoolboy innocence which made them so terribly dangerous, because it was an incurable condition. They were worse, in many ways, than those compulsive sadists who emerge whenever licensed savagery is in prospect. For Pordys, torture was just a lark, a naughty sport like shooting pheasants out of season. Addicts are treatable. Fun-lovers will always hanker for more fun.”

Ascherson was reviewing books by Caroline Elkins and David Anderson.

Caroline Elkins, Associate Professor of History at Harvard has written a book on the period, Imperial Reckoning: the untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya, which won a Pulitzer Prize and a lot of attention.

According to her calculations, up to 320,000 Kikuyu—nearly a third of the population—may have passed through the more than 50 camps, a figure which does not include the people, mostly women and children, held behind barbed wire in the fortified resettlement villages.

She also attempts to put a figure to the total loss of Kikuyu lives, the born and the unborn. She projects population growth from the 1948 census total, compares the result with the 1962 census figure, and finds a gap between them of over 136,000—at the very lowest estimate of growth rates. In her introduction, Elkins declares: “I now believe there was in late colonial Kenya a murderous campaign to eliminate Kikuyu people, a campaign that left tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, dead.”

Lawrence James, who has written extensively on the British Empire, criticized Elkins’s book as being one-sided. James in turn was criticized for being too kind to the British. A number of historians have questioned her methodology and asserted that her figures are grossly exaggerated.

Demographer John Blacker writing in African Affairs demonstrated in detail that Elkins’ estimates of casualties were grossly over-estimated.

In the Journal of African History, Kenyan historian, Bethwell Ogot, wrote that the Mau Mau:“Contrary to African customs and values, assaulted old people, women and children. The horrors they practiced included the following: decapitation and general mutilation of civilians, torture before murder, bodies bound up in sacks and dropped in wells, burning the victims alive, gouging out of eyes, splitting open the stomachs of pregnant women. No war can justify such gruesome actions. In man’s inhumanity to man there is no race distinction. The Africans were practicing it on themselves. There was no reason and no restraint on both sides, although Elkins sees no atrocities on the part of Mau Mau”.

David Anderson went into the surviving trial archives of Emergency Kenya. He examines the grounds on which at least 1,090 Africans were sent to the gallows within a few years—a total without parallel in the late British Empire. He then uses the evidence to reconstruct in detail the story of the Mau Mau rebellion, with its intricate background and its terrible consequences.

Caroline Elkins did lengthy archival research in Kenya and London but also uses oral testimony, which can be unreliable. Nevertheless, the brutality revealed in her interviews is in all too many cases corroborated by witnesses who could not have cooked up the stories in collaboration. Chroniclers of King Leopold’s “Congo Free State,” for example, have always lamented that the firsthand witnesses to its atrocities were all European or American.  Nobody let the Congolese speak for themselves.

The “Hola Massacre” has become part of British, as well as Kenyan, history. On March 3, 1959, a hundred detainees in the remote Hola camp defied orders to go to work. A force of five hundred riot police had already been assembled. When the prisoners refused to pick up their spades, a prearranged onslaught began. An hour later, ten prisoners had been clubbed to death and dozens lay dying or injured. In spite of a frantic cover-up campaign, Britain’s domination of Kenya was fatally damaged.

Anderson writes: “What is astonishing about Kenya’s dirty war is not that it remained secret at the time but that it was so well known and so thoroughly documented.”

Ascherson comments: “The British need to believe that their Empire was run and eventually dismantled with restraint and humanity—as opposed to the disgusting brutality of the French, Dutch, Belgian, Portuguese, Spanish, and German colonial empires. Punctures in that belief have to be mended.”

“The myth that British colonialism guaranteed a minimum standard of behavior toward ‘natives’ cannot—or should not—survive the evidence of twentieth-century Kenya. In the field, the security forces behaved like Germans on an antipartisan sweep in occupied France. In the detention and work camps, and the resettlement villages, the British created a world no better than the universe of the Soviet Gulag.”

Julie MacLusky

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