11 December 2005

This country can no longer ignore evidence of US torture

Sunday Business Post

By Tom McGurk
11 December 2005

“The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading as a last resort, all other justifications having failed to justify themselves as liberation.

“A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.”

I am quoting from the acceptance speech of this year's Nobel literature prize winner, Harold Pinter. Because of illness, Pinter was unable to travel and was forced to record his speech for the awards ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden.

The speech was principally a formidable critique of US foreign policy since World War II, a devastating exposé of the Pentagon's adventures in Southern and Central America, South East Asia and now the Middle East.

Pinter continued: “The United States supported and, in many cases, engendered every right-wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War.

“I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

“Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. But did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy.

But you wouldn't know it.

“It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them.

“You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”

Pinter, who is gravely ill, has - uniquely as a Nobel winner - chosen the vast international stage of the Nobel prizegiving ceremony to deliver a passionate cry for international justice.

As his speech was shown last week, the appalling morass that is the aftermath of the American invasion of Iraq was everywhere.

More suicide bombings, more murdered hostages, more bodies everywhere.

As we approach the third anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq, it is now clear that the US has started a bush fire (pun intended) that it cannot contain.

When they douse it in one place, it breaks out elsewhere.

Since the beginning, public opinion in Ireland had been unwaveringly opposed to the war. It began with the largest-ever anti-war demonstration in Dublin in February 2003. Opinion has, if anything, hardened ever since.

There was also growing opposition to the use of Shannon Airport as a US military refuelling base, but at the time, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, argued that the airport was simply servicing transatlantic traffic as it had always done.

In a sense, he was correct and I tend to agree with him that taking action in those circumstances would have been seen as a hostile act towards the Bush administration and wouldn't have been in the national interest.

For example, the Soviets were allowed to use Shannon for years and to make an example of the US would have been clearly provocative.

But the situation now is very different.

As part of its ‘war on terror', the US has played cat-and-mouse with international laws governing the arrest, holding and interrogation of prisoners. There is now considerable evidence that Shannon was used to facilitate illegal activity.

In factual terms, since the Irish authorities do not know what is being carried on US military aircraft landing at Shannon, we cannot categorically claim that the US has breached international law.

But, in the first instance, it should be pointed out that its so-called ‘rendition policy' of grabbing suspects throughout the world and then transferring them to other countries for interrogation is actually kidnapping.

It is just as illegal as the actions of the current squads of kidnappers in Iraq. The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has explained that rendition exists but, of course, not in these terms.

But how long can our government ignore the evidence of recently-released detainees subject to rendition and torture?

The case of German citizen Khaled al-Masri is particularly instructive. Al-Masri was kidnapped while on holiday in Macedonia in December 2003, held for three weeks blindfolded and incommunicado and then secretly flown to Afghanistan.

His rendition involved the German, Macedonian, Albanian and Afghan authorities and EU airspace. Arrested because his name was the same as that of one of the 9/11 hijackers, al-Masri was held for five months in Afghanistan where he claims he was tortured.

When his innocence was finally established, al-Masri was secretly flown to Albania and simply dumped at night by the side of a road.

Further evidence is also being discovered by various international human rights bodies. For example, Human Rights Watch identified the Kogalniceanu military airfield in Romania and Poland's Szczytno-Szymany Airport as probable secret CIA prison sites, based on flight logs of CIA aircraft from 2001 to 2004.

Other airports the group thinks were probably used include Palma de Majorca in Spain's Balearic Islands, Larnaca in Cyprus, and Shannon.

Nor can the growing body of evidence from now-released Guantanamo Bay detainees be ignored.

One detainee, Mamdouh Habib - an Egyptian-born Australian citizen - who was seized by the CIA in Pakistan in October 2001 - claims he was sent to Egypt and burned, electrocuted and beaten until he bled in his sleep from his nose, mouth and ears.

Another, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian and former Canadian resident, was taken by the CIA to Jordan for interrogation for eight months.

Meanwhile, Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni, an Egyptian imprisoned by Indonesian authorities in January 2002, was flown to Egypt for interrogation, returned to the CIA four months later and then held for 13 months in Afghanistan.

Maher Arar, a naturalised Canadian citizen, kidnapped in New York in September 2002,was taken to Syria where he claims to have been held in a coffin and tortured with whips before being released.

All of these men ended up in Guantanamo. Uzbekistan has also been in the news.

Craig Murray, the former British ambassador there, told US television that Uzbek citizens, captured in Afghanistan, were flown to Tashkent on an American plane on a regular basis.

Alleged Uzbeki torture techniques include drowning, suffocation, rape and immersion in boiling liquid.

Is it too much for our government, even if they are afraid of isolating themselves from the US on the Shannon issue, to seek a wider EU approach to this whole crisis?

Couldn't they at least hide in a pack? Or are we all still in the thrall to what Harold Pinter called in Stockholm “the American act of hypnosis'‘?

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