By Farooque Chowdhury
18 May, 2013
A tyrant or a torturer facing trial was unimaginable in the 1950s and ‘60s and ‘70s. But trials of tyrants are not strange now.
In those days in the last century, band of butchers – tyrants – was in abundance in countries. A slow motion journey along lanes of memory will take across those tyrants in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Even Europe harboured a few.
There were Ayub Khan, a field marshal, followed by Yahia Khan and Ziaul Huq, two generals, in Pakistan, Franco in Spain, Suharto in Indonesia, Salazar in pre- Captains' Coup -Portugal, Shah in Iran, Chun Doo Hwan in South Korea, colonels' clique in Greece, Stroessner, Meza, Pinochet and fellow generals in Latin America, Marcos in the Philippines, etc. They had colleagues in Africa – assassins, mercenaries, murderers, racists, supremacists. A new tyrant followed footsteps of his predecessor. Juntas of generals were always there with promises of prosperity and practices of tyranny. The story was almost the same in those countries: false promises, poverty, corruption, squandering of public property, bleeding of societies, chaining labour and democratic movements, and abduction, jailing and killing of labour and democratic political leaders and activists.
But the lords of torture never imagined that they would be facing a day, a day of trial and judgment – formal, tiring and humiliating. They never imagined that they would be making a journey back through the dark, bloodied alleys they created. They never imagined that they would be recollecting the dead bodies they killed. They never imagined they would be recalling tact of torture they practiced. Their great hope was a heavy torture machine supported by tricky lies spewed by efficient agents. Their high hope was on seeding ignorance, brain washing, false propaganda, blackmail, intrigue, money power, threat, terror.
But a day beyond their imagination is dawning in countries. Crimes are now being questioned and torturers are not going free. Even “good, old” colonial days and Nazi “achievements” are being questioned and “awards” are being handed over. A few of the verdicts are historic and carry international implication. Over the last few days mainstream media tell seemingly “strange” incidents in the north and south hemispheres.
War against People
Efrain Rios Montt, a former Guatemalan general, has been found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. The 86-year-old's serving term of 80 years in prison has already begun.
Rios was convicted of ordering the deaths of 1,771 persons in 1982-'83. In the 36-year civil war, about 200,000 people died and 45,000 “disappeared” and Rios led the war's bloodiest part overwhelmed with cruelty committed by army against people suspected of assisting leftist guerrillas. “Between 1978 and 1983,” Margaret Randall writes in her book Our Voices Our Lives , “the army razed 440 rural villages. Even the country's own government sources estimate 100,000 children orphaned by political violence in the early 1980s.” In one of the continent's bloodiest civil wars, people including children were killed in assassination-style shootings while hunger, rape and forced displacements were only a few of the tools of war waged against the people.
The Guatemalan tyrant has no moral standing. He had no courage to own his acts. He had to deny the charges, saying he neither knew of nor ordered massacres and genocide.
The former general blamed his field commanders: “I never authorized, I never signed, I never proposed, I never ordered an attack. I never did it, and of everything that has been said here, there has never been any evidence of my participation”, he told the court.
However, judge Jazmin Barrios said that as de facto president it was logical that Rios knew the happenings, but he did nothing to stop those.
It is the first time a former head of state had been found guilty of genocide by a court in the country ruled by the tyrant. The former general's case has broadened an avenue to justice.
The court has also ordered to launch an investigation of all others connected to the crimes. “This important and unexpected aspect of the verdict means that there now exists a formal legal mandate for a criminal investigation of the president of Guatemala, General Otto Perez Molina.” (Allan Nairn, “A Formal Legal Mandate for a Criminal Investigation of Guatemala's Current President, Perez Molina”) Molina's immunity as president does not block initiating investigation. Molina was Rios' field commander. His troops described the way they killed civilians. (ibid.)
Burden of Imperial Crime
Thousands of Kenyans, Ian Cobain and Jessica Hatcher reported, were detained and mistreated during the 1950s Mau Mau insurgency. (The Guardian , May 5, 2013) Now, the UK government is negotiating payments to the compensation settlement, tens of millions of pounds to about 10,000 former prisoners, resulting from official crimes committed under imperial rule. The UK was facing international political pressure and the possibility of losing moral authority, a very sensitive and useful area for a world power.
The report said:
The development could broaden the way for other claims from other British colonies including Aden , Swaziland , Guyana and Cyprus .
The insurgency found 30,000 deaths. In British prisons during the eight-year uprising, water boarding with kerosene mixed into the water was a tool of torture. A number of prisoners died under torture. Prisoners were “roasted alive”. A Nairobi judge compared the methods employed to those of the Gestapo. Thousands of people – 80,000-300,000 – were detained in camps, Britain 's gulag as one Pulitzer-winning history termed. It's an exposure of imperialist democracy that never gets tired in condemning the Soviet society.
One of those abused was Hussein Onyango Obama, the grandfather of Barack Obama. According to Onyango Obama's widow, British soldiers forced pins into his fingernails and buttocks and squeezed his testicles between metal rods. Two of the claimants who brought the case against the British government were castrated.
One was Wambugu Wa Nyingi. He was detained on the 1952-Christmas Eve and held for nine years, much of the time in manacles. He was beaten unconscious during a massacre at a camp in which 11 men died.
“I feel I was robbed of my youth and that I did not get to do the things I should have done as a young man”, he said. “There is a saying in Kikuyu that old age lives off the years of youth, but I have nothing to live off because my youth was taken from me.”
Lawyers engaged by the UK government admitted the allegations were true, but opposed the case, arguing that too much time had elapsed for a fair trial.
Waiting for a verdict
In Chile , according to Owen Bowcott's report, people are looking forward to a verdict. ( The Guardian , May 6, 2013). The report said:
About 40 years ago, a few days after Pinochet's coup toppling president Salvador Allende in Chile , a police officer mangled face of Leopoldo García Lucero, member of Socialist Party and close to Allende, with the stock of a machine gun. García's left arm was broken in several places with a rifle. Most of his teeth are missing from beatings. His spine is damaged. Beatings on his head created cognitive problems. He now walks with a stick.
“In the comisaria [police station] there were bags of concrete covered in blood”, García, one of the 35,000 torture survivors, recalled. “They wanted me to tell them where the [Allende supporting] senators were hiding. They said they would kill me but first they would bring my six-year-old daughter, stand her in front of the concrete bags, and shoot her. … [P]olicemen … hit me repeatedly with a baton. The hearing in my right ear was damaged.”
After three days, blindfolded García was taken to the national stadium herded with hundreds of junta-opponents. He was suspended with weights on his legs, kicked in the testicles and burned with cigarettes. He recalled: “They would call names out. People thought they were going to be released but when they went out … they were shot. They called my name several times. I didn't trust them and stayed still. We could hear rifle fire from the direction … where the women were being held … We would wonder how many people had been killed.” García, 79, did not betray friends.
In 2002, with the help of Redress, the UK-based organization helping torture victims, García filed claim for compensation for “moral damages” with the inter-American commission. The IAC vets applications to the inter-American court of human rights. His lawyers have asked the state to investigate the torture, treat a torture victim fairly who has a right to reparations, and a written apology from president Piñera. The court, it is expected, will deliver judgment next month on the lawsuit, which has taken 11 years to process.
García's case could set international standards about just reparation for the tortured and exiled. Chile is obliged to investigate torture and punish the perpetrators as it has signed a number of treaties. A commission is investigating human rights abuses as a program of international justice is being implemented. Already, up to 2011, $1.6bn was paid as reparations to Pinochet-era victims of torture.
An Auschwitz Guard
According to AP and BBC (May 6, 2013), Hans Lipschis, a 93-year-old former guard at the Auschwitz, has been arrested in Germany as he had been complicit in the mass murder and persecution of innocent civilians, primarily Jews, at the camp between October 1941 and 1945.
The reports said:
In Auschwitz, the biggest Nazi extermination camp, about 1.5 million people were killed between 1940 and 1945.
Prosecutors point to a re-interpretation of criminal law after the conviction of John Demjanjuk in May 2011, who was found guilty of being an accessory to the murder of 28,060 Jews while he was a guard at the Sobibor death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. His case means that defendants might no longer be able to hide behind the argument that they were following orders.
Force of Threat
All these cases tell a lot and question a lot and suggest a lot and have a lot of implications. These cases are related to force of threat and its diminishing power, force of people's resistance, power of people's awareness, no escape route from gradual development of the process of accountability in broader society.
Awareness and rising resistance are not always loud. Most of the times, these develop silently. Most of the times, these develop below the surface and beyond elite-eyesight. Intrigues and implants, deactivation and demobilization, falsification and false publicity contribute zero to thwart people's rising awareness.
Power – political, monetary, military, intelligence, administrative, coercive, manipulative – were not in scarcity in the castles of the empire and forts of generals and co. In front of the generals' onslaught, the Chilean people temporarily turned perplexed and disorganized. The Kenyan people had the same experience in front of the British Empire. The Guatemalan people had similar experience. The Jews in Nazi death camps had nothing to do but curse the Nazis, the supremacists.
Propaganda power of all these villains in history – the killer generals, the dominating empire, the despised Nazis – was enormous. Their power of disinformation and falsification was also extraordinary at those times in those societies.
But gradually all those powers turned blunt and failed to replace political process that people initiate. These powers failed to subdue people's yearning for justice as terrorizing people is not a sustainable political process, as falsifying facts ultimately takes away total credibility of falsifiers although maestros of falsification contented with their tact keep eternal hope on falsification. With gathering experiences people discover their political power, subdue forces of terror and falsification and puts villains on dock.
Information of Kenya, Guatemala, Chile and Auschwitz and similar phenomena will reach people in other lands. There will be people committed “to tell”, as Rigoberta Menchu told, “the story of my people.” Conscience shall awaken. People will review reality and documents, initiate legal fights demanding operational orders, broaden definitions of crime, renew efforts demanding justice. People can't be perpetually kept unaware as gradually increasing information reach them and as they interact within economy. Manipulation and distortion by money- and lobby-power can't subdue people's path to justice as manipulation is handiwork of handful of masterminds and people's path to justice is part of a social process participated by people and social process don't gets dictated by masterminds. Otherwise, history would have been different, supremacist theory would have stood test of history, apology for murdering Patrice Lumumba would not have been offered, and Nazis, imperialists and generals would have succeeded. But, none of these happened.
Farooque Chowdhury is Dhaka-based freelancer.