“Torontonamo Bay”

Toronto just finished hosting the G20 Summit, which literally lasted about eight hours in our city. The meeting got started at around 9am on Sunday and by 5pm leaders were already on their way out of town. An eight-hour meeting sure cost a whole lot and wreaked a whole lot of havoc.

I was glued to live news coverage on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday I skipped out on plans and watched the news from about 5pm until midnight. On Sunday, after participating in the completely peaceful, happy, and fun bike rally protest for a couple of hours, I was glued to the TV again from about 5:30pm until 11pm. I want to say that CP24 did an amazing job…for those two days…covering the vandalizing and police standoffs. It would have been nice if they had also provided wall-to-wall, commercial-free coverage of the demonstrations that took place all week—thousands of people in the days before the summit peacefully demonstrating on the streets of Toronto, getting their message out. That wasn’t so interesting, you see, because there were no assholes lighting police cars on fire.

Where were the media for the “Shout Out For Global Justice,” which took place at Massey Hall and featured Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman, and Maude Barlow (among others)? And when Naomi Klein led the entire audience on a peaceful walk to the temporary “tent city” at Allen Gardens in solidarity with the homeless, where were the media? And when Allen Gardens became a peaceful dance party? That wasn’t so interesting to the media since there were no assholes smashing store windows.

What occurred this past weekend in Toronto was nothing short of a clusterfuck. These meetings should not be held in densely populated urban settings. They should not cost, for two days, what the United Nations spends in an entire year. They should be held in places that are already fortified and secure enough to protect the heads of state that reside in them—the White House, Parliament Hill, Downing Street, the Palace…or the freakin’ UN! And they should not pick the pockets of cities, small-business owners, and residents when it’s the federal government making the decisions.

There’s a lot to say about the G20, the politics, and what happened in Toronto on the weekend. There is a vast echo chamber now and there’s little chance I’ll say something that hasn’t already been said. Except for one thing.

Yesterday there was another demonstration, an extremely peaceful and massive “jail solidarity” demo for the 900+ people who were arrested and detained in the makeshift detention centre. I heard two or three people who were interviewed on the news refer to the detainment facility as “Torontonamo Bay.” And today I read the report of Cameron Fenton, a 24-year-old who was arrested and detained for 17 hours; he referred to the detention centre as “tantamount to torture.”

No one is denying that the conditions at the detention facility were bad—they probably were terrible. I would have been miserable if I had had to stay there for even 3 hours, let alone 24. I would likely be complaining about it to anyone who would listen. I might even be seeking legal representation. But let’s be reasonable and respectful. There are innocent people at Guantanamo Bay and other detention facilities overseas who have been held—without charges, without lawyers, without habeas corpus—for many, many years. There are innocent people in these facilities (and some who are likely not innocent) who have been tortured. Truly tortured. To compare your treatment for 12, 17, or 24 hours at a makeshift detainment facility in Toronto, Ontario, Canada to a military-run torture centre that exists in a legal no-man’s land is completely ignorant. It’s akin to comparing Barack Obama, Stephen Harper, or anyone besides Hitler, to Hitler. It’s like Gretchen Carlson comparing her job as a talk-show host to that of the President of the United States.

People who have been held in a legal abyss and who have truly been tortured would likely have a thing or two to say about your experience versus theirs. So no more of this “Torontonamo Bay” and “tantamount to torture” bullshit. If you want to have your issues taken seriously, then be serious.

The torture debate is torture!

Again in the news today the Republican Party is bleating the same old nonsensical party line.

The Republican Party has incurred the wrath of many by speaking to the press about a closed Intelligence Committee hearing on interrogation that took place on Thursday.

And what did they say? “Torture worked,” of course. It’s the same line many, especially Dick Cheney, have been touting for months and months now. Except that they don’t use that word “torture;” they say “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

First they denied that the United States tortured. “We do not torture,” said Bush and Cheney and others.

Then all of this stuff called factual evidence came out proving that the United States did indeed torture, so now they’re denying that it was bad because it “worked.”

And now everywhere—on every news program, in every newspaper, on every blog, on every political commentary show—people are just arguing over whether or not torture “works.”

Back and forth, back and forth. Over and over and over again. It’s nauseating.

Because amid all of this headache-inducing arguing, no one is saying the one thing that actually matters, that is truly important, that will render the debate irrelevant: IT DOESN’T MATTER!!!

While it’s nice that most evidence indicates that torture does not work (worse, that it is detrimental and impedes the interrogative progress), it simply does not matter. It is illegal. Period.

The UN Convention Against Torture defines torture quite clearly:

From Article 1:

  • “For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

From Article 2:

  • “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”
  • “An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.”

The United States signed this Convention in 1988, about three years after 24 other nations signed it.

The United States and all of the other countries in the world also signed The Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, which states in part:

  • “The present Convention shall apply to all cases of declared war or of any other armed conflict which may arise between two or more of the High Contracting Parties, even if the state of war is not recognized by one of them.”
  • “The Convention shall also apply to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party, even if the said occupation meets with no armed resistance.”
  • “Prisoners of war are in the hands of the enemy Power, but not of the individuals or military units who have captured them. Irrespective of the individual responsibilities that may exist, the Detaining Power is responsible for the treatment given them.”
  • “Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention.”
  • “Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”
  • “Prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour. Women shall be treated with all the regard due to their sex and shall in all cases benefit by treatment as favourable as that granted to men. Prisoners of war shall retain the full civil capacity which they enjoyed at the time of their capture. The Detaining Power may not restrict the exercise, either within or without its own territory, of the rights such capacity confers except in so far as the captivity requires.”

Okay, so here we have the two legally binding, international agreements signed by the United States.

And over here we have the pile of evidence (including Dick Cheney’s own use of the word “torture”) showing that the United States did in fact violate the UN Convention against torture and the Geneva Convention. This International Committee of the Red Cross report (among many, many other papers that have been released or leaked) proves that these violations occurred.

And nowhere will you see in the UN Convention or the Geneva Convention a line that reads: “But if you think that torture works, then please disregard all of the above.”

It simply doesn’t matter whether or not it worked. It is heartening to know that most evidence suggests it does not, as that lends credence to the folks fighting for justice and human rights—but it’s irrelevant.

The only relevant point is that torture is illegal; it’s not to be done.

But nobody is saying this! Talking heads and…writing hands are all busy making noise about whether or not it worked. If somehow Dick Cheney manages to get his two imaginary “all-proving” memos declassified and released, will that absolve the U.S. because the torture worked and therefore was not illegal?!?!

I work in the arts and therefore don’t have a lot of money. I’ve got student loan debt and credit card debt. I’d love to travel and buy a new bike. But I don’t have money. Perhaps I should rob a bank! I wouldn’t be breaking the law, right, because if I robbed a bank I’d have money, which would prove that robbing the bank worked.

There are some people in this world I don’t like. I don’t use the word “hate” (and mean it) very often, but there are a couple of people I wouldn’t mind being dead. Maybe I should kill them! I wouldn’t be breaking the law, right, because if I killed them then they would be dead, thus proving that killing them worked in accomplishing making them dead.

Every day I read a lot of blogs and newspaper articles from all over the world, I listen to podcasts and radio shows, I watch the news and political commentary shows (yes, even some right-wing shows, though admittedly not very often because I like my head and don’t want it to explode). And I think only twice have I heard someone say that this whole debate is childish and backwards, that it’s irrelevant whether or not torture is effective because no one’s supposed to do it.

One of those people was Rachel Maddow, whose show I happily admit to listening to every day. Here’s what she said on the matter, and I think she sums up the argument brilliantly and viscerally:

“Ultimately I think the debate will have fully matured when we stop debating that point all together. I mean, what if you can get great answers out of people from waterboarding? What if you can get great answers out of people from dangling them out of helicopters over the open sea? What if you can get great answers out of people from raping them or killing their children in front of them? I mean, honestly—where do you stop?! The point about torture is that it doesn’t matter if it’s  effective; we don’t do it!

“The whole debate about effectiveness denies the idea that torture is beyond the pale. The reason that there are statutes against torture is not because people never thought it was effective before and were doing it otherwise. Everybody who has ever tortured did it because they thought it was effective—whether to discover whether or not somebody was a witch, or whether to discover the end of the plot on 24, or whether to discover whatever it was Dick Cheney wanted to discover in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

“But the point of effectiveness ultimately will be left behind when the debate returns to its rational foundations.”

Aaaah, fully matured debates and rational foundations. If only.

(For more on this topic, as explored by me, click here.)

Do as I say, not as I do

There is mounting and unequivocal evidence that the United States participated in torture. And by “participated in” I mean performed.

In February 2007, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was granted access to 14 “high-value detainees” being held in the Guantanamo Bay prison. Among them were Abu Zubaydah and Khaled Shaik Mohammed, whom you’ve probably heard of.

The ICRC is the only international organization that is granted such privileges. It produces reports that are meant solely for the authorities for whom they are written. It is on the grounds that these reports will never be made public nor discussed publicly that access is granted.

Recently, the February 2007 report the ICRC prepared for the CIA was leaked. Entitled “ICRC Report On the Treatment of Fourteen ‘High Value Detainees’ in CIA Custody,” the report details—and I mean details—what it refers to as “torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Since the report has been made public by an unknown source, one can only speculate as to who may have leaked it. Perhaps a member of the U.S. government or a member of the ICRC who felt this information was vital for the public to know.

And it is vital.

There is no denying anymore that the U.S. tortured people. It has been confirmed by far too many legitimate sources, from judges to military insiders to the ICRC. It doesn’t matter why or in the name of what the U.S. perpetrated torture; what matters is that they knowingly, continually, and secretively broke international laws and treaties, including the Geneva Conventions.

We know that if this were done by another country, the United States would at least speak out against it, and at most participate in an international court proceeding to bring the offenders to justice. In fact, they have done so in the past.

Just last week Barack Obama said of North Korea’s most recent failed attempt to launch a missile: “North Korea broke the rules…. Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something.”

Am I the only one who finds this hypocritical? I guess it only applies to other countries.

It is time, really, to make an extremely important statement to the world that violations of rules will not be tolerated—regardless of who the violators are. The United States can no longer get away with, “Do as I say, not as I do.” No one should be above the law.

The fact that no one in the U.S. is willing to touch this—yet—is disturbing. Clearly politics is more important than justice.

I urge you to read the International Committee of the Red Cross’s report here. It’s not that long, and it’s very readable.

Keep in mind as you read that it was not only these “high-value detainees” who were treated this way, but most of the hundreds of people they swept up and made prisoners indefinitely. Also keep in mind that, guilty or not, these people should have had charges laid against them, access to legal counsel, and trials to determine their guilt or innocence. They received none of these things. No charges were laid. No access to the outside world was granted. No trials were held. And the prisoners’ loved ones were not even made aware of what had happened to them.

Spread the word, especially if you happen to be American. Your country is working hard to clean up its reputation and standing in the world; Barack Obama is doing a great job of that. But as long as you continue to sheepishly ignore these most egregious abuses by your former administration, you will only be known as a hypocritical country, and you will never be able to claim the moral high ground again.