There are a few things most certainly true of torture. The first is that once a country or society opens the door it becomes the proverbial greased pig, a very slippery and insidious creature to deal with. Secondly, where we undertake torture we grant the so called terrorists who haunt our world their greatest victory. Where we willingly collapse hard won human rights and civil liberties- supposedly the very things we hold sacred-and among the things we are defending -we grant the enemy his greatest victory for he has ripped the fabric of our society. It is also in the greasy nature of torture that where it is detected its practitioners simply make it an even more covert activity.
US president Barack Obama is in an epic struggle with the greased pig of torture. He promised to close Guantanamo but can no longer do so as the closure has now been delayed at least another year thanks to the US Senate vetoing the funds to do so.
The pig gets even greasier though as simultaneous to the failure to close Guantanamo comes the announcement that the equally infamous Bagram prison in Afghanistan is to be expanded. So, maybe, just maybe, the Guantanamo torture facility is not being closed at all- just relocated closer to the action and even farther from any sort of scrutiny.
A little more grease is added when it has just been revealed the CIA has been operating one of its “rendition” facilities in a former horse riding academy in Lithuania. To this day it is a well kept secret just how many such facilities are in operation around the world.
The greased pig of torture is a globe trotter, a bounder and respects no borders. This is the very reason international law must prevail with exceptions made for no country big or small- another subject for another time.
President Obama is not alone in his battle. Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper has just been confronted with the greased pig of torture. So far Harper has been running from the pig, terrified of getting any of that nauseous ikky stuff on his impeccable attire; or should we say his impeccable hypocrisy. Unruffled, no grease on his hands, he surveys the scene with a sublime indifference.
Harper, of course, leads the only Western government that has steadfastly refused to repatriate its citizens from Quantanamo. All others, even apple polishing Britain, have successfully done so. The citizen in question for Harper and Canada is Omar Khadr, the child soldier at the age of 15 years captured in Afghanistan.
The Khadr case has long since taken the measure of this government’s lack of commitment to genuine proactive human rights and revealed its coldhearted disposition on torture.
If Harper does not lose any sleep over the plight of Omar Khadr the testimony of Richard Colvin might just prick his recumbent soul. Colvin, a former Canadian diplomat in Afghanistan, has testified before a Commons committee Canada has been turning over prisoners destined to be tortured. We have, it seems, some compelling need to help fill Bagram prison and contribute to its necessary expansion.
Defense Minister Peter Mackay invokes his experience as crown prosecutor in trying to discredit Colvin’s testimony but he is up against a witness of unimpeachable credentials and one still employed in our Washington embassy- an intelligence officer no less- who’s very job it is to know such things. Mackay’s attempts at character assassination serve only to betray his political desperation.
Canada’s military is deeply integrated into that of the US. Since the 2004 torture scandal at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison it is well known the US has been practicing torture. Only the utterly naïve would believe that Canada’s military could avoid being complicit in torture and the breaking of international law in this close and utterly compliant relationship. It now remains to be seen how many other NATO countries serving there are also complicit in torture. The British army for one is embroiled in a series of torture accusations dating back to the Iraq war.
As long as this not so cuddly little pig has the run of the house all of us get smeared and the blame does not lie totally with our leaders. We too are refusing to wrestle this not so cuddly little pig as we drift toward being torture tolerant societies. Stark testimony to this is not only our lack of outrage to torture connected to the less than authentic war on terror but also domestic torture. Domestic torture comes in the form of our apparent tolerance for the use of the tasers by our police forces. Both the UN and Amnesty International consider the taser a form of torture. It was never intended as a lethal weapon, but it now has a proven lethality, and a growing list of victims.
It is a time worn political cliché our leaders are only as good as we make them, and right now we are not making them very good.
President Obama has just returned from China. Prime Minister Harper is due to go there in the next few weeks. Gone are the days when Western leaders can step off a plane and start lecturing Chinese leaders on human rights and civil liberties. We have squandered our moral authority and our moral compass is suffering a grotesque deflection- courtesy of the ruinous war on terror. Not only do our leaders arrive in that country as economic supplicants, but also as human rights and civil liberties violators. The most they can do now is compare notes with the Chinese on mutual and pervasive indiscretions.
Robert Billyard © 2009