A nation making war with
an enemy which holds different values may eventually feel pressed
to adopt that enemy's values at the sacrifice of their own. Whether
that nation succumbs to such pressures, or else resists and maintains
its valued ethics, is a mark of that nation's integrity.
As citizens of our own nation,
or of the world, we also face basic questions about the kinds
of treatment now being adopted by other nations, with which we
may share alliance links and joint military actions, against
people who become their prisoners.
We review here some of the issues that arise from
defending ourselves against terrorist threats and aggression.
Arguments have been made (particularly since the September 2001
Al-Qaeda attacks on the USA mainland) that 'normal' ethics may
be justifiably suspended or cancelled in dealing with some captives
from the terrorist side.
[ click onto underlined
words for more background ]
Two kinds of "total
war" threat have been faced by our armed forces and populations
: firstly the use of radical kinds of military action, such as
suicide attacks ...
... and secondly the
use of terror attacks to demoralise civilian populations (urban
air raids on Britain, Germany, and Japan; or guerilla attacks
such as in Palestine, Cyprus, Indochina, Britain (IRA), Israel,
Afghanistan and Iraq.
Both kinds of attacker
have been labelled "terrorist" and "freedom fighter"
for the purposes of either side in related conflicts.
Japan during the
Pacific War (1941-45) used both 'banzai' infantry attacks and
kamikaze pilot attacks - although these seemed (by Western values)
irrational at a personal level they did have intended
tactical results - such tactics were also applied in Korea by
DPRK and Chinese auxiliary forces against UN forces
movements in the mid 20th century resorted to terror attacks
by both sides on both military & civilian targets, e.g. Stern
gang attacks in British Palestine mandate; Vietminh guerilla
attacks in French Indochina; 'EOKA' attacks (also on British)
in Cyprus; both sides in French Algeria in 1960s; Vietcong assassinations
and American napalm bombing in Vietnam (1960-75)
These did have tactical
aims for rebels of removing colonial power, but primarily by
alienating local populace from brutal counter-measures often
taken in response by colonial power
conflicts have seen both sides adopt torture of different kinds
on captive prisoners
conventions are framed for conventional 'symmetric' war ... in
which opponents are expected to share such conventions
even in such conflicts prisoners may be taken, from whom some
response or information is sought which is believed vital to
the captor's own side - an argument existed that the 'end justified
the means' whereby norms of captor behaviour may be broken
nations have simply disregarded such conventions in war, e.g.
Japan in 2nd Sino-Japanese war (1935-45); DPRK in Korean War
What is torture ? Why is it used ?
Following the Al-Qaeda attacks
in 2001, the USA attacked the Taliban forces which 'governed'
Afghanistan in 2002 (with
UN endorsement for this action, and a large number of allied
countries) - aiming to replace their
Islamic fundamentalist regime and to interdict Al Qaeda forces
and camps which had been hosted in that country. This action
involved anti-Taliban regional forces, led by unelected "warlords,"
their prime motive being to restore their prior status before
Taliban centralised control.
The counter-attack achieved some
but not all of USA aims. A partially democratic central government
was installed, which remedied many Taliban actions - but with
limited government control of areas outside the capital Kabul.
Many Al Qaeda fighters and commanders were killed or captured
- including Osama Bin Laden ia decade later n 2011, but (to-date)
not all its paramount leadership which continues operations in
Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen.
The USA government had also
maintained hostile relations with the Baathist regime in Iraq
since the 1991 Gulf War, and used alleged links between Iraq
and Al-Qaeda and an ideological agenda to justify invasion of
Iraq to remove the regime, with
more compliant allies Britain and Australia, but without UN endorsement. While
the regime change aim was met, the USA was unable to control
the country post-war nor achieve a stable and secure replacement
government. A serious consequence of both conflicts was also
adoption by the USA of illegal treatment - with indefinite detention
of captives without trial, and including torture sponsored and
co-ordinated by the CIA. This latter approach features some pseudo-legal
tactics including RENDITION of captives to American allied countries
which have not forsaken torture. This is examined in Paul
Monk's AusThink paper of May 2005
of its values and former attitudes against torture has alienated
many countries which had been its allies - and in due course
led to internal debate within the USA population and congress.
These pressures were forcing some retreat from the Bush government's
new attitude, although it remains unclear how genuine and effective
such a retreat is.
A significant challenge
in this came from within the 2000-2008 government's own Republican
Party - from Senator Cain, who had first-hand experience of fighting
in the Vietnam War, of becoming a prisoner, and of suffering
torture and serious mistreatment. This
challenge is outlined in an L.A.Times article.
Although this debate
continues, the Bush government has by its ill-judgement and abandonment
of principles deeply damaged the national integrity of the USA.
This damage will not be swiftly undone, and deeply reduces the
former American role as an international exemplar, i.e. "the
shining city on the hill" of folklore.
UPDATE ! ... The new US administration of President
Barack Obama starts to reveal the (2000-2008) Bush government's
steps in providing legal guidelines and endorsement for actions
taken by the CIA and other agencies - which included torture
story has further to run, but an
interim opinion by Frank Rich in the N.Y. Times makes relevant comment,
as does the commentary
on the ICRC report on USA torture methods (and how they were legally endorsed)
by Mark Danner in the N.Y. Review of Books (30.Apr.09).
UPDATES ! ...
by Cullen Murphy
Monthly, Jan/Feb 2012) compares modern methods of interrogation
and coercion supported by the CIA with those of the medieval
Inquisition for the Roman Catholic Church.
article (from New Matilda, Dec 2012) reports
judgement by European Court of Human Rights on illegality
of CIA (and Macedonian) treatment of German-Lebanese citizen
Impact on Australia :
No firm evidence has
emerged yet of any direct participation by Australian forces,
operating in alliance with USA and other nations' forces, in
torture or other systemic mistreatment of captives.
However Australian inteligence
agencies demonstrated little interest against rendition to Egypt
(for interrogationn & torture) and Guantanamo of Australian
governmental compliance with any unjust detention and mistreatment
of captives in US bases at Guantanomo Bay in Cuba has endorsed
Howard Australian government response to USA "rendition"
of captives was also silent or muted.
Impacts on Australian
& international values are discussed in John Hooker's New Matilda article
(23 March 2005) and also items in Wilson's blogmanac
As individuals we each
need to imagine one of our own friends or family members being
subjected to such treatment (by forces of ANY nation) to judge
its impact: and we each need to protest to our local parliamentary
member or any other government branch, for them to be aware of
our rejection of this compliance, and to activate international
conventions which Australia nominally supports.
December 2014 : after twelve years, a US Senate review
under Senator Dianne Feinstein is released, over CIA interrogation
of detainees after the September 11 2001 attacks.
It finds that actions
at "black site" prisons around the world included details
of barbaric and inhumane treatment [which] call into question
the values at the core of that nation's identity.
The report also analysed
20 cases where CIA claims of 'useful' information being obtained
from detainees under such torture (like water-boarding), concluding
these CIA claims were untrue. It also seeks to affirm that "America
is big enough to admit when it's wrong and confident enough to
learn from its mistakes."
While the Obama administration
had ordered such practises to cease soon after taking office
in 2008, this proscription may or may not continue under a future