Can torture be made illegitimate? [Archives:2006/951/Opinion]

June 1 2006

Hassan Al-Haifi
It is nothing new that governments have resorted to the torture of their citizens for various reasons ranging from criminal investigations to weed out answers or confessions, when normal interrogation fail, or to control political opponents. Over the ages, governments representing empires or country-states have locked up any citizens opposed to the status quo and subjected them to the most atrocious tortures that can be imagined, depending on the available technologies. However, as man's knowledge became more extensive, it was not difficult to see his knowledge proportionately grow in the unfair and undignified treatment of their fellow men. Ironically, the governments that are supposed to be the guardians of their constituencies were the first to rush to use the latest torture tactics and methods developed by the “genius of man”.

Moreover, the tortures became more gruesome as more instruments and tools were invented that kept human beings out of contact with the tortured victims and thus there was no worry of “soft hearts' succumbing to the mercy of their hearts and lightening up on the whip lash.

Whatever the case, it seems that even supposedly modern democratic states have not failed to take out the use of human torture from their modus operandi in fighting crime or fighting terror, and with the latter gaining in prominence over the last decade or so, it goes without saying that it is time the international community seriously take drastic action in outlawing all forms of inhumane torture tactics that are even immoral when inflicted upon animals, let alone human beings.

The ugly scenes of Abu Ghreib, Guantanamo and the many prisons of western states and the horrible prisons of the Third World have made it essential for the world to find ways to curb or halt any form of inhumane torture on human beings for any reasons. This is not necessarily a call for a stop to punishment, as called for by existing effective laws, as deterrents to crimes of any serious genre, but for the complete halt of all forms of unusually oppressive tortures used to render the victims from all sense of dignity and feeling of humanness.

This observer would think it not untimely to ordain certain new world conventions that outlaw all forms of excessive torture, especially as the intended purposes for meting out such tortures have failed in either suppressing such modern excuses like “fighting terror”, suppressing opposition or any other excuses states use to use torture.

In addition such conventions should impose upon states to halt all licensing for any organizations, companies or institutions that use, manufacture or propagate the use of torture or torture equipment of any kind or for any reason. These include consultants, who undertake interrogations on behalf of governments, such as those used in the Abu Ghreib and other “anti-terrorist” prisons. In addition, any state found to import or buy torture equipment that is found to be excessively inhumane should be punished by economic sanctions, halt to access to financial support, or halt of donor assistance.

Only when governments start to realize that they can not simply violate human treatment ordinances would human beings feel obligated to support such governments and would in fact lead to more cooperative support of the intended victims of such tortures, since most of the victims are usually found to be innocent suspects who were the victims of bad fate or bad prejudice. Furthermore, those who carry out torture, even if under orders are to be punished and liable for damages, as if such crimes were inflicted in the streets, rather than in state owned prisons. It is really time for the international community to worry about human dignity that is institutionally and systematically violated under different “legitimate” covers.

Hassan Al-Haifi has been a Yemeni political economist and journalist for more than 20 years.