Monday, February 20, 2006

BBC: Torture at Gitmo is a fact

It seems that, in the view of the BBC, there is no longer any doubt about whether the practices at Guantanamo Bay constitute torture. On Saturday's "Any Questions" on Radio Four, the first question put to the panel was:
"What action should the British government take to bring about an end to the use of torture at Guantanamo Bay?"
The question, of course, persumes as an established fact that torture is indeed occurring, and wonders only what should be done to stop it.

Now, the first thing to note is that, although the question came from an audience member, it was not an unscripted question. The BBC knew beforehand what the question was, and chose the questioner and his question with the specific purpose of introducing the topic. And once the question was posed, neither the host, David Dimbleby, nor any of the four panel members, expressed any objection to the premise upon which it was based or doubt that the premise was indeed true.

Unfortunately, although its producers, presenters, and selected guests all apparently accept as beyond question the fact that torture is being employed at Guantanamo, I have yet to see any articles on the BBC website detailing either a) the BBC's official definition of torture or b) the proof of that it has occurred at Camp X-ray.

(Hat tip: reader Jonathon)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is torture watching the BBC slavishly kowtow to their Marxist masters.

And I have to pay for this shite?

11:38 PM  
Anonymous Rob said...

Well said, Scott. Allegations that torture was used at Gitmo have passed into history - but in fact it was of such heinous offences as forcing detainees to listen to pop music and stand too close to women of which the sadistic guards were actually gulty.

1:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do enjoy stories about torture at Gitmo and rough handling of prisoners in Iraq.
Before passing opinions I really do wish people would take advantage of the extensive opportunities offered by countries in the Islamic world to enjoy the hospitality of their penal system. There are certainly no attempts to force feed prisoners on hunger strike. Far from it, the authorities positively encourage the inmates to go on hunger strike and should their determination fail are always ready and willing to assist. Likewise the chances of being threatened with menstrual blood are vanishingly small, threats made using the inmates own blood being found more effective. As for the flushing of religeous texts down toilets- Did somebody say flush?

7:20 PM  
Anonymous JR said...

The fact that conditions in Guantanamo are not as bad as in many Arab prisons is hardly the point. Were 'normal' criminals (suspected bank robbers, say) subjected to this kind of behaviour, there would one hopes be an outcry.

Forgetting allegations of torture and inhumane treatment for the meantime, there is the small matter of locking people up without trial for four years.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


How many Japanese/German POWs were tried during WW II?


2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that was a declared war Scott. There's a difference.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


I agree...there is a difference between a traditional war against a sovereign state or states, and the current war we are fighting against cross-border, international terrorist organizations. But there is also a difference between a common criminal as a prisoner captured while perpetrating a domestic crime and an international terrorist as a prisoner captured while waging war against the US.

It is entirely reasonable to argue that the Bush administration has not adequately handled this relatively unique brand of prisoner. But such an argument, if it is reasonable, must 1) honestly recognize the unique nature of the people whom we are capturing and 2) must offer alternatives. Repeating, ad nauseum (as the BBC, for example, does) that the prisoners are "being held without trial", as if that on its face is evidence of the injustice of it, simply won't do. We have held prisoners before without trial, and no one did or would argue that it is necessarily unjust. If I am to accept that it is unjust in current circumstances, you'll have to produce reasons rather than simply declare that the absence of a trial is, in and of itself, unjust on its face.


3:48 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


Let me just add that it is not a mere declaration of war that provides the moral justification for holding enemy combatants without trial. If it was just to hold German and Japanese soldiers without trial until the force for which they fought ceased its aggression, then I do not see why it is not also just to hold members of Al Qaeda without trial until the organization for which they fight ceases its agression.


3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point, which is why I've always been against the setting up of Gitmo in the first place. The inmates should have been turned over to the Afghan authorities at the earliest opportunity and dealt with by them. Likewise, close Camp X-ray now and return the inmates to where they were apprehended - ie for the most part Afghanistan.
Of course how many would actually survive the experience is another matter but surely that's hardly germane is it? You're more interested in the legal aspects of holding them aren't you? So the prospect that people might be harmed if they're back in circulation isn't a factor? Even if it's them?
Perhaps we ought to consult the Geneva Convention on what responsibilities we have for prisoners of war? UNHCHR are really helpful here 'cause they publish the whole of the Convention on their website
Let's have a look at Article 4 which defines a 'prisoner of war.
I quote:
"Article 4

A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:

1. Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

2. Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions:

(a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;

(b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;

(c) That of carrying arms openly;

(d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

3. Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.

4. Persons who accompany the armed forces without actually being members thereof, such as civilian members of military aircraft crews, war correspondents, supply contractors, members of labour units or of services responsible for the welfare of the armed forces, provided that they have received authorization from the armed forces which they accompany, who shall provide them for that purpose with an identity card similar to the annexed model.

5. Members of crews, including masters, pilots and apprentices, of the merchant marine and the crews of civil aircraft of the Parties to the conflict, who do not benefit by more favourable treatment under any other provisions of international law.

6. Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war."

Oh that's awkward. They don't seem to fit in anywhere. So it looks like they'll just have to be treated as criminals and sent back to where the crimes were committed. Anyone know how much It'd cost to charter a couple of Jumbo's Cuba to Kabul? Cheaper than running camp X-ray, I'd think.

4:00 PM  
Anonymous JR said...

Scott: If I was convinced 100% that they were all die-hard al-Qaeda members then the argument to treat them as POWs is fine - except this 'conflict' is unlikely to have a definite end - will they be kept locked up forever? I accept many may have had big roles in al-Qaeda, however others may just have been in the wrong place in the wrong time - and without a trial who can really say? Two men

Anon: I'm slightly confused as to what your point is. You say "So it looks like they'll just have to be treated as criminals and sent back to where the crimes were committed." Treating them like criminals would involve trials, a judge, evidence and all the rest of it and is what I'm driving at. Make no mistake true al-Qaeda members deserve to be locked up for a very long time (although not tortured..but thats another topic!).

5:43 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


It is true that we may have captured people who happen to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But some vetting process has taken place, as many people who were originally taken to Gitmo have since been released (some of whom have been found fighting again). It is not clear to me that a trial process would more accurately vet out such people than does the existing vetting process. Indeed, given the philosophy that informs the US trial system - ie that it is better to release 10 guilty men than to imprison 1 innocent man - my suspicion is that such a process would do a much worse job.

Personally, I don't believe that the Bush admin (or any elected admin, for that matter) would want to continue to hold people in Gitmo for no good reason. So when they say that the people there are bad guys, I tend to believe they've got a reason to say so. If you don't believe them, fair enough (although the need to hold at least some degree of trust in the good will and intentions of elected government is, I think, unavoidable). But if so, you need to devise a process that both gives you the comfort that we are not holding people for no good reason, but also gives a high degree of assurance that we are not likely to be releasing people that are intent on doing us harm. A trial, or at least a trial as traditionally conceived, does not on its face strike me as solving both those problems.

Again, I have no problem with critics saying that Bush has not dealt with this problem of dealing with a relatively new form of POW well, but in the absence of suggesting any legitimate alternative, such critics are nothing more than ankle-biters.

BTW, I agree that defining an end to hostilities such that prisoners can be safely released also poses a new problem that ought to be debated. However, I would emphasize again that simply criticizing the Bush admin for not adequately solving the problem is not itself a solution.


8:16 AM  

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