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<nettime> torture photographs as torture
[iso-8859-1] ben moretti on Sat, 15 May 2004 13:33:49 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> torture photographs as torture

geoffrey robertson was interviewed earlier this week
about the iraq torture photographs. he had a very
interesting point:

"What it seems to have been happening is that a
systemic abuse that was justified on the basis of
softening up, something that was taught as an
interrogation technique - ritual humiliation, use of
photographs to show suspects to try and get
information out of them."

so with that in mind, the photographs then become an
instrument of torture themselves.

article follows.


Australian Broadcasting Corporation



Broadcast: 10/05/2004
Confidentiality clause leaves abuse unreported:

Reporter: Tony Jones

TONY JONES: Well, joining us now from London is UN
judge and human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC.

Geoffrey Robertson, if the Red Cross knew about these
terrible abuses more than a year ago, didn't they have
some sort of duty of care to make this known to the

LAWYER: The Red Cross has known over the 50 years
since the Geneva Conventions about an awful lot of

The problem is that in the Geneva Conventions, which
go way back to 1949, they were given exclusive rights
to investigate prison conditions in war situations.

They're given that privilege and in return for
investigating and writing reports to governments, they
promise confidentiality.

So they've seen an awful lot and, of course, now the
question is really whether that confidentiality
promise should be kept in this day and age, where the
safeguard of the Red Cross has proved to be not an
effective safeguard for Guantanamo Bay - certainly for
Iraq - because the governments - of Britain today, we
learn, knew about the Red Cross findings some two
months ago and didn't make them public - governments
will not make adverse findings public.

And I think the time may have come where at least the
leading governments of the world, by which I mean
Britain and America and Australia, ought to relieve
the Red Cross of its duty of confidentiality and say,
"Inspect our prisons, inspect the conditions in our
prisons and we will release your report, say, three
months after it's been given, delivered to us."

Confidentiality no longer provides, it's quite clear,
the safeguard and, of course, thinking back to the
attitudes of 1949, people thought, "Well, governments
won't allow the Red Cross into prisons if they're not
promised this confidentiality."

I think that we should advance our thinking and, at
least in future, accept that Red Cross reports should
be made public like the one that has been made public

TONY JONES: They made public elements of it on
Saturday but only after, it appeared, that the whole
thing had been leaked.

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON QC: It was leaked to the Wall
Street Journal and it's gone up finally on the website

The other question, of course, is whether the
Australian Government received the report, which it
certainly should have because it is a coalition
partner and bound by rules of engagement and arguably
an occupying power.

Australia should insist on receiving Red Cross reports
in future in relation to Iraq prisons.

TONY JONES: Geoffrey Robertson, what are you saying

If the Australian Government did receive that report,
you'd be asking questions about what they did about

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: QC: I think the same questions
that are being asked in Britain today of the Prime
Minister and the Minister of Defence, namely, "When
did you receive the Red Cross report?" - and Britain
received it in February - and, "What did you do about

And I think that's a real question to be asking
governments that receive these secret reports and we
expect them to take immediate action.

Maybe they have but I think they have to show that
they did receive the report and they did act upon it.

But for the future, because what we're seeing here is
not just the kind of abuse that happens in most
prisons where those in power over others humiliate

What it seems to have been happening is that a
systemic abuse that was justified on the basis of
softening up, something that was taught as an
interrogation technique - ritual humiliation, use of
photographs to show suspects to try and get
information out of them.

Although we know that this kind of pressure tends to
make suspects lie, give interrogators whatever they

This, if it is a systematic torture technique used as
a softening-up process for interrogation, it becomes a
very serious matter because someone must have taught
it, someone in authority must have taught it, and one
would expect that those who were responsible for
teaching the technique will be, in the fullness of
time, put on trial.

I think for the future we must ask the question, "Are
the confidentiality requirements of the old Geneva
accords satisfactory" when it's, as it were, our
governments that are doing the detaining and ought to
be accountable to a very fine body, like the Red Cross
because there is no question that the Red Cross does
do its inspections very carefully and very well.

But whether they ought to be relieved of the duty of
confidentiality, which is really a Cold War duty and
doesn't really resound today when it's not an adequate
safeguard for prisoners of the Americans.

TONY JONES: Let me move on to talk about the actual
report, which, as you say, is now on the web site.

It does talk about there being systematic torture and
this report was written more than a year ago,

If there was systematic torture of the type that you
outlined there, would you regard that as a war crime?

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: QC: Certainly, it is a war crime.

It's a crime against humanity, it's a crime against
international law.

And what is so important is to decide whether this was
taught at a school, rather like the hooding and
interrogation techniques that were taught to the
British Army and used in interrogating IRA suspects in
the early '70s, the torture techniques that were used
in South America that were taught by some parts of the
American Army.

We've got to look at those who are responsible for
deciding that this, that these torture techniques are
acceptable and not make scapegoats, of course, of
those who have been carrying them out.

Of course, they are guilty but at the same time, one
must give them a fair trial and must look to those who
authorised and devised.

The authors of the techniques must be investigated.

TONY JONES: Alright, you talk about trials and

The United States, of course, refused to sign up to
the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Does that preclude the ICC nonetheless from giving
indictments to US military officers, who they believe
might be responsible or indeed, preclude them from
investigating these matters?

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: QC: Well, the US Army has a pretty
good record of investigating and prosecuting where
these cases like this are concerned.

I have no doubt that the military tribunals will be in
full swing in the next few months and there will be an
accountability but it does underline, I think, the
importance of bringing America on board to the
International Criminal Court because the mere fact
that they are on our side doesn't mean that there
aren't going to be abuses and that there may well be
an area where the International Criminal Court can be

TONY JONES: If that is the case, it can't make
indictments against Americans, I take it.

Can it make indictments against British soldiers and
British officers who may have been involved in similar

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON QC: Only if Britain fails to take
action itself.

The International Criminal Court is a court of last

It's a fallback, where the power to whom the soldiers
who have misbehaved belong is incapable or simply
refuses to take action.

I have little doubt, from what Mr Blair said today,
that there will be a number of prosecutions of British
soldiers who are suspected of maltreating prisoners.

It's only if Britain turns a blind eye or refuses to
act where there is evidence that the International
Criminal Court can come in and hopefully would come in
and prosecute.

But I don't think that is going to be likely in this

TONY JONES: What would happen, though, in the case
where only the perpetrators were prosecuted?

In the US, for example, if it was believed
internationally that the responsibility went much
further up the chain of command, could there be
indictments issued, in case people like generals who
might have ordered such things went to other

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON QC: I think if there became
credible evidence that a senior political or military
figure had devised or had authorised the systematic
torture of prisoners, then that individual could be
prosecuted under international law because that would
be a crime under international law, and if they
belonged to a country that had signed up to the
International Criminal Court, then, yes, they could be
prosecuted if the evidence was strong enough.

I think it highly unlikely, almost incredible, that if
the evidence was sufficiently powerful against a
senior figure in the military of Britain - of
Australia, for that matter - that the authorities
wouldn't court-martial them.

But if they didn't, then certainly, that is what the
ICC is there for - to prosecute those against whom
there is very strong evidence of committing crimes
against humanity, whose own governments or own
prosecution systems don't take action.

TONY JONES: Let me ask you a slightly broader
question, if I can.

What are the legal boundaries for interrogating
prisoners suspected of terrorism and what forms of
duress can they legally be put under in order to make
them give evidence, particularly if, as many of these
governments are saying, "These are very pressing
matters, we're trying to stop another act of
terrorism, perhaps like September 11?"

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON QC: Well, of course and it is
always shown that the sooner you bring a suspect in
for interrogation, the sooner you are able to get the
answers and the more likely that the suspect will

In theory, of course, suspects are only required to
give - as we remember from the old Colditz films, some
of us - name, rank and number.

That is the minimum requirement under the Geneva

But, in fact, the interrogators' opportunities are
very much wider.

They can be offered all sorts of inducements to talk,
so long as pressure, physical pressure, is not placed
upon them.

And not just physical pressure - threats to their
family and so forth, they are all excluded as torture.

And many threats, of course - many interrogators think
long and hard and design ways of torture without
leaving a mark.

Some years ago, the Singapore police used to put
suspects up in front of freezing cold air-conditioners
for an hour in the hope that they would talk without
leaving a mark.

That is out of bounds.

The infliction of pain of any kind, whether physical
or mental, is out of bounds.

But within that - notwithstanding that cut-off point -
interrogators, of course, tend to get much further
with suspects whom they're prepared to deal decently

And of course, they have a range of possibilities, of
options, of offering that you won't be prosecuted if
you give the information and so forth.

TONY JONES: Very briefly, because we are nearly out of
time I'm sorry to say, we are now learning that the
techniques, many of them used at Abu Ghraib, appear to
have been 'pioneered', if you like, at Guantanamo Bay
and other secret prisons maintained by the United
States over a period of time.

How important is it to find out what is going on in
those places?

GEOFFREY ROBERTSON QC: Well, it's been important for a
long time.

We talk of 'pioneering'.

I'm not sure they have been pioneered at Guantanamo

If you go back to Oman, to the British Army in Aden,
that was where the torture techniques of
spread-eagling, hooding, high-pitched noise that were
exposed when Irish prisoners were put into internment
in 1970, that was where they were started.

Some of the torture techniques used by Pinochet's
forces were later traced to a particular American

There is a long history of trying to work out ways in
which, which will make the will crumble.

And it may well be that these particular techniques,
which are to some extent sadistic but are also sexual,
they are also aimed to demean the suspect in a way
that may be particularly - or thought to be -
particularly humiliating and degrading.

By photographing them in sexual positions with women
pointing at their genitals and so on and then later
showing them that photograph in the course of an
interrogation, there may have been thought to be some
mileage in doing that.

And that's what I mean by whether these were simply
the isolated acts of sadism which one finds, sadly, in
prisons all over the world.

Or whether they were actually devised or taught,
whether someone sat down and thought, "How are we
going to torture people of this racial background, of
this cultural background?"

If that has been the case, then certainly that is a
serious crime and needs to be fully investigated.

TONY JONES: Geoffrey Robertson, we do thank you for
taking the time to come to talk to us again tonight on

We'll have to leave it there.


ben moretti
e: benmoretti {AT} yahoo.com.au
w: http://www.geocities.com/benmoretti
t: +61 0438 822 196

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