By Stephen Gowans
An internal document of the Canadian Foreign Affairs Department has listed both the United States and Israel as countries that potentially torture and abuse prisoners.
The U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Wilkens, says his country’s inclusion on the list is “offensive”, as if the Canadian designation of the U.S. as a country that practices torture is a baseless slander, rather than a near certainty based on mountains of evidence.
A perusal of newspaper headlines over the last few years at the very least makes the case that there’s reason to believe the U.S. and Israel abuse prisoners, if not torture them.
For example, on October 6, 2007 The New York Times reported that the U.S. Justice Department in 2005 authorized the CIA to use torture techniques that produce no permanent physical injury.
You can quibble about whether non-injurious interrogation procedures are torture, but anyone who is subjected to such techniques, which include simulated drowning, have no illusions about whether they’re being tortured.
The United Nations agrees. On May 19, 2006 the world body concluded that the use of so-called extreme interrogation techniques – torture without permanent physical injury — is a violation of the U.N. Convention against Torture.
Consider this headline, from the British newspaper the Guardian, dated May 7, 2007, summarizing the findings of the Israeli human rights groups The Centre for the Defense of the Individual and B’Tselem: “Palestinians ‘routinely tortured’ in Israeli jails”.
Guantanamo Bay, identified by the Canadian government as a place where torture is likely practiced, has a deservedly infamous reputation. As British cabinet minister Harriet Harman asked, “If there’s nothing wrong with what’s going on at Guantanamo Bay, why isn’t it in America?”
The answer to that question was offered by the FBI on January 2, 2007. According to a Bureau investigation, captives at Guantanamo Bay were chained to the floor for 18 hours or more, forced to urinate and defecate on themselves, and were subjected to extremes of temperature. A United Nations investigation declared these acts to be tantamount to torture.
Gauntanamo isn’t the only prison that is deliberately located outside the U.S. Locating prisons on foreign soil allows U.S. interrogators to escape the restraints U.S. law imposes on abuse of prisoners at home.
On June 9 of last year, The New York Times revealed that the Council of Europe confirmed suspicions that the U.S. operated secret prisons in Europe. Prisoners were abused and tortured, according to the Council.
On January 7, The New York Times reported that prisoners held by the U.S. at Bagram prison in Afghanistan are subjected to cruel treatment. This was according to the Red Cross, which says the U.S. routinely keeps prisoners away from its inspectors. Bagram, it’s said, is worse than Guantanamo.
Prisoners are being abused at other U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan, as well. Human Rights Watch said it has separate consistent accounts from eight men detained at a secret U.S. prison in Afghanistan of being tortured.
And let’s not forget the abuses at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. On March 7, 2006 The New York Times reported that Amnesty International had found that the U.S. had committed “widespread abuses in Iraq, including torture.”
What, then, should we make of the inclusion of the U.S. and Israel on the Canadian government torture list – misguided and baseless, or simply a reflection of what has been clear to anyone who hasn’t been in a coma for the last five years?
If the U.S. ambassador is astonished, he hasn’t been paying attention.