"Over half of the Israeli population approves of the use of torture
against terror suspects", say the headlines in Israeli papers today,
after a BBC poll yesterday revealed these results. I'm appalled……I
am shocked, horrified at this number. But everyone else seems to just
shrug it off as if to say, "What do you expect?".
If only 1% of a country's population approved of torture, I'd be horrified. But more than half! Of Israelis! APPROVE! of torture!! And that, it seems, is a-ok with the world.
A world which long ago condemned torture as a means of extracting information……a world that tried to establish international standards of decency and human rights after the brutal massacres that characterized World War II, by establishing the Nuremberg Principles, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and the United Nations…….that world is now silent when a nation's populace openly declares their support for abuse that directly violates all of these principles.
And when not only the populace, but the government of that nation, has openly engaged in torture of its prisoners-of-war, it becomes more than a mere 'opinion poll', in fact it is the reality of life for the 10,000 Palestinian prisoners-of-war currently held by Israel. Every day, these prisoners are tortured, beaten, humiliated, silenced, and made invisible to a world that doesn't care to see their suffering.
The world writes them off as 'terrorists', and thus entirely expendable, despite the fact that 99% of them are innocent of any crime. 140 Palestinians, in the last 12 years, blew themselves up in attacks against Israeli civilians. But over 80% of the adult male Palestinian population has been taken prisoner by Israel at least one time since then. From a population of 5 million people, that amounts to about 1,000,000 prisoners taken, tortured, held, and usually released after a short while. And of the 10,000 that are being held for longer periods, at least 1/10th of them have never been charged with any crime, and will never be charged, as they are being held indefinitely without charge in what the Israelis euphemistically term 'administrative detention'. In reality, however, it amounts to the taking of hostages — holding them without charge, which is in itself a form of psychological torture…..added to by the nearly-daily torments of physical torture, abuse and humiliation.
Torture may serve as an emotional release for the torturer, maybe it helps him or her 'let off some steam' or release some anger. But of all that has been written, and every study that has been performed on the subject, one truth has come out as irrefutable: torture is entirely ineffective as a means of extracting information.
According to the Center for Victims of Torture, "Torture does not work. We know from working with victims that torture is an ineffective way to gather information. Nearly all our clients, when subjected to torture, confessed to a crime they did not commit, gave up extraneous information, or supplied names of innocent friends or colleagues. This is a great source of shame for our clients, who tell us they would have said anything to get the pain to stop. But don’t take just our word for it. Experienced and well-trained interrogators within the military, the FBI and the police say that torture does not yield reliable information. Such extraneous information distracts, rather than supports, valid investigations. F. Andy Messing, retired major U.S. Special Forces and director of the National Defense Council told Insight magazine, 'Anybody with real combat experience understands that torture is counterproductive.'"
Indeed, it was the only torture victim in the U.S. Senate, John McCain (who was a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam in the 1960s), who proposed a bill, following the Abu Ghraib scandal in which U.S. soldiers tortured prisoners in Iraq, that would have set clear guidelines prohibiting cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (including, of course, all torture) of prisoners held by U.S. troops. The bill was opposed by the Bush administration (none of whom have any actual combat experience), and was not passed.
Amnesty International, an international society that focuses on the prevention of torture worldwide, has this to say on the subject:
"The prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (ill-treatment) is absolute and unconditional. It applies at all times and can never be suspended (it is non-derogable). No emergency situations or any other exceptional circumstances whatsoever can justify their use. The right to freedom from torture and other ill-treatment is a universal right that all human beings must enjoy without distinction. The prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is provided for in major international human rights treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment."
"What do those advocating torture mean? Do they mean slapping? If that doesn't work, are electric shocks acceptable? Or what about shoving a broken broom stick up the rectum of the victim, as happened to Abner Louima in a New York police station in 1997? And if inflicting pain on one suspect to save 10 or 100 lives is acceptable, why not torture the suspect to death?
"Torture degrades and brutalizes both the victim and the torturer. It corrupts any society that allows it.
"Amnesty International's experience shows that torture cannot be 'regulated' or confined to the 'ticking bomb' scenario used by its apologists. Israel used this justification in 1987 to authorize 'moderate physical pressure' while interrogating Palestinian suspects. Before long, violent shaking and prolonged shackling in contorted positions were being used routinely by the security services against Palestinian detainees. In some cases 'moderate physical pressure' became torture to the point of death. Eventually, in 1999 the Israeli High Court ruled that such methods were unlawful and should be banned.
"Faced with obdurate silence from a suspect, torture may seem tempting. The temptation must be resisted. Once torture is justified for one purpose, other purposes will follow. The resort to torture will lead to false information, false confessions, wrongful convictions, victims broken in mind and body.
"Torture is not effective against the threat of 'terrorism'. When the UK used torture against suspects interned in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, it did not bring an end to the campaign of violence by Republican and Loyalist groups. Only the peace process initiated in the mid 1990s, with an important focus on human rights protection, has, despite its difficulties, made a real difference to the security of ordinary people."
And a peace process, based on justice and international humanitarian law, is the only thing that will resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. Instead, Israeli citizens are openly advocating, and engaging in, a sick and twisted practice – torture. No good will ever come of torturing Palestinians. Any individual who would advocate such a practice needs to thoroughly re-examine their personal moral framework. As for a society in which more than half of its citizenry agrees with the practice of torture, well…….perhaps a new set of Nuremberg trials are worth considering — if only to reiterate the importance of the principles that the Nuremberg trials established for the world community — principles that Israeli citizens seem to think don't apply to them, either as individuals, or as a nation as a whole.