Weapons of Horrible Destruction (WHD)

and Torture in the name of Freedom

A category of war crimes is needed for the the invention, sales, distribution and use of ever more weapons for horrible deaths, maiming and environmental destruction.

These include deadly gases, diseases as weapons, napalm, agent orange, nuclear bombs, cluster bombs, modern land mines, and now high-power microwaving euphemistically described as HPM, robot soldiers, and the devil knows what else. Rogue states and rogue individuals need not bother inventing these things - the 'goodies' are doing it for them, as if unaware that sooner or later these weapons of horrible destruction will be used against them also.

Still, the news brings reports of research in ever more horrible weaponry, with billions spent on gamma rays and germ warfare and bunker-busters and other ways to ruin the earth as well as ourselves. In Iraq the US has used napalm-like firebombs (Age 9.8.2003) and depeleted uranium - how much destruction of the country has been caused by all that 'shock and awe' used to oust Saddam, at so many billions of dollars of cost to the US?

International shaming might also help, if every mention of such weapons was always accompanied by the name of the country most involved in their invention, the firms that profit - and even the names of the prime inventors. The annual Death-making Awards.

Imagination and Torture for a free world

Torture: 'severe pain to extort a confession, or as a punishment'.

For Illustration: Photograph of John Lindh in custody in Afghanistan. Stripped naked, blindfolded, strapped with bands so tight on to a stretcher that he could not even wriggle, and his hands triple bound over his groin. We do not see his darkened mind.

As part of growing darkness, the war against being terrorised now includes inflicting terror, as part of that war, and as part of life.

It would seem unbelievable even a few years ago that the public are now being urged to accept torture as a reasonable means to protect 'our way of life' and its fundamental principles such as 'To no man will we deny justice...'

It has been a matter of disgrace and shame that a 'free' country like England has used torture in Northern Ireland, and that police may use methods of interrogation on some social classes that they would not use on the middle classes.

It is a matter if disgrace and shame that since the end of the Second World War that was fought among other aims to end the scandal of torture, instead the use of State torture has escalated across the world. The export of instruments of torture is also a profitable trade for countries like freedom-loving Britain.

A Harvard Professor is now claiming 'no democracy has ever or would ever actually live by the purist position' that 'torture should never be employed, even if thousands of lives could be saved by applying non-lethal temporary pain to an admitted terrorist.' (Professor Alan Deshowitz, Opinion AGE 15/3/2003). He sees the issue of state torture as reduced to the question of whether it is publicly admitted to be used, or used in secret.

There are four issues here - a moral issue, which can be quickly disposed of, and three practical issues:

The moral issue - does the end justify the means, is it right to harm others, and are the means themselves an evil to burden the souls of perpetrators. For Christians the answer must be no, but in practice there will be much wriggling. For pragmatists as well as legalists, these issue may require to be clarified by definitions that Professor Deshowitz did not set out - what limits there may be to 'non-lethal temporary pain' and how sharp is the boundary between an admitted terrorist and a suspected one? In the meantime, even the Goodies are administering 'non-lethal pain' for extended periods that is liable to have permanent effects to hundreds of people who have neither admitted being terrorists nor had any trial at all.

The practical issues are:

1. Opening the gates

Most but not all freedoms have been won in blood. It would be well to list how much has not required blood - from Magna Carta and before, the 1832 Reform Bill, British rejection of slavery and capital punishment, manhood suffrage, the Australian Eight Hours Day, and the independence of many nations. How much has required blood - and how much has unnecessarily required blood - in wars of independence, civil wars, struggles for religious toleration, free speech and the rights of workers and women?

All these freedoms are increasingly at risk of being lost within free states, not only in dictatorships, through fear and greed. In war and in 'peace' the Geneva conventions are increasingly flouted. They do not protect civilians.

'Non-lethal pain' includes inflicting every form of physical suffering that can be imagined by human minds, particularly that which does not show permanently on the body. But worse, it can include 'killing the soul', which is more worthy of fear than killing the body. The brain-washing techniques of the Chinese in the Korean war were roundly condemned, as they used methods of persuasion that swung unpredictably from friendship to persecution, hope to despair. The methods of criminal mafias have also been judged evil, with their 'ways of making you talk', with hostages, gradual mutilations, and the like.

The treatment of the six hundred or so captives at Guantanamo Bay has set precedents in torture that consist of 'cruel and unusual punishments' that have been publicly condemned in democratic and freedom-loving countries. 'To none will we deny justice...' has been modified to exclude those who are not United States citizens, who remain or have remained without basic legal rights, even without trial, for several years. They have been cared for well physically, in terms of good and sufficient food, and showers and 15 minutes exercise reported to be twice a week. They have been allowed to practise their religion.

What has been 'cruel and unusual' has been their humiliation by 'our' side. Arabs are traditionally a proud people. When taken prisoner by Americans or Israelis they are now commonly blindfolded, stripped at least half-naked - more than is required by the excuse given, to avoid them strapping bombs to their bodies, and photographs show them sitting apparently for long periods with hands tied tightly behind their backs - uncomfortable to try for even 15 minutes. There were photographs from Afghanistan of prisoners sitting on the ground helpless while guards ruffled their hair, not gently.

Remember who set the precedents for treating people as 'non-humans' without the human right for justice. Methods of the racist enemy in World War II are now being followed against the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay because they are not United States citizens, but regarded as lesser breeds. In Korea in the 1950s, where police and politics had been trained by the ungentle Japanese, prisoners wore wicker baskets over their heads so no-one could identify them when they were transported in open trucks. In our own society, accused criminals going to or from the courts often have blankets or other shrouds over their heads to avoid the shame of public photographs. But these types of prisoner still had sight enough to be able to move. But to be blindfolded means that you can see nothing and are in solitary darkness, and this is often for long periods.

We have seen columns of shackled and blindfolded men like this led to planes, and individuals, heads apparently forced down, shambling between the guards who hold them, as they go to and from interrogations. They have been held in solitary confinement, in open cages, with 24-hour lighting, in the climate of Guantanamo Bay, although pictures have also been shown of neat dormitories. Their interrogation has included softening by sleeplessness and long standing, bright lights in the eyes, and sustained interrogatory demands over months and months. They have been allowed no contact with the outside world. What useful information can be elicited from them along with useless confabulations over all this time cannot be known, because they have had no trials to confirm that they are the 'most evil of the evil' and not just caught up in a war that suddenly became a war against the United States as These mind-destroying sustained interrogations and alternations of sensory deprivation and sensory bombardment over more than a year are apparently now more for punishment than for the possibility of extorting any further useful information, as the situation outside is changing all the time.

But how their minds and sanity can be standing up to the constant humiliation, isolation and interrogation is doubtful. They may be won over by the psychological dynamics of 'identification with the aggressor', known in concentration camps, but hardly won over to (or by) humanness and our core values.

It is reported that regulations will mean that Iraqi prisoners-of-war when transported by helicopters can be stripped naked to avoid any suicide bombs being strapped to their bodies, blindfolded, and strapped to stretchers, with hands tied.

2. The effect on the torturers and their supporters

People who carry out instructions to inflict these experiences on others may be righteously convinced of the nobility of their cause and the value of their work. They can also be enjoying the sense of power, and the licence for sadism.

The male world has been softened up for this sort of conduct for decades by its entertainment - as voyeurs of violence and cruelty in films and comics, especially from the United States and Japan, and even as players of computer games, with its enormous genre devoted to killing enemies. I asked my eight-year-old grandson who was playing something like Indiana Jones and the Tomb Raiders, or whatever, 'Why do you have to play inflicting such horrible tortures on people in this game?' "But granny,' he said, 'If you don't gouge and kick and skewer, you can't rescue the princess.' If you play fair you won't win, is an early lesson from these games.

Young boys can be expected to scuffle and fight for fun - in the past this was a stage they were expected to grow out of, with adult help, in order to behave as civilised adults. As small girls aged 9 and 10 during war-time, my sister and I used to imagine tortures for Hitler. We had some fairly bizarre and spectacular ideas, but none of them were the sort of torture that adults routinely administer in concentration camps and interrogation cells. But the people ringing American chat lines and talk-back with ever more horrible tortures for Saddam Hussein are not immature children, but adults. A survey has reported that 50 percent of them believe that he was responsible for the Twin Towers bombing, and so are excused from this response. But this behavior also shows that torture can be horribly misdirected on those innocent of the particular crimes that the torture is intended to punish.

Those who inflict such mental and/or physical torture and delight in contemplating it, lose out as full human beings.

3. The effect on the enemy, whoever that enemy might be

The tortures and the fear of torture of the Spanish Inquisition helped to keep Spain Catholic. Slaves can fear to rebel. Bloody dictators seem to be safer when they are bloody. Safer within their own borders, that is. But they are more likely to set the rest of the world against them, and those who flee are stirrers and those who die are martyrs, the seed of opposition. Genocide wiped out the not-numerous Cathars and the Caribs, so they were no more trouble, but in the world that is now global not only in shape, torture as a tool for security results only in the spread of torture as a tool for rebellion, and for its use inspires further rebellion and more enemies to catch and torture.

Whatever names confessions under torture may indict, true or false, these will not include the further thousands in the world outside who breed from such 'martyrs'.

A nation that stands for liberty and justice cannot long endure as a free country when it brands itself as a denier of freedom and justice for others.

Fighting for freedom

As this is being written, a war against Iraq is at least in part to stop a murderous regime that routinely uses brutal physical torture and extermination as political tools, and would not hesitate to use weapons of mass destruction. All over the world, such behavior and attitudes are becoming more accepted.

How much more then should fighters for freedom keep clear of inventing still more Weapons of Horrible Destruction, for others to take over and use against us. How much more should the Goodies avoid using psychological harm and inhumane practices in its own treatment of political prisoners - and so legitimise such practices to be used back against them.

How much more should the world see that our fine words about liberty and justice and Christian ideals are also how we behave.

But Stalin was worse, Saddam is worse. Is this really an argument?

The light at the end of the tunnel must not go out.

Valerie Yule

Also see:

Making, selling and using Land Mines as War Crimes