By Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur
May 15, 2011
Abu Ghraibs do not happen in a vacuum; there is a lot that is hidden from prying eyes and, as long as the powerful enjoy immunity, this will continue
The word ‘waterboarding’ conjures images of a sporting discipline in the category of surfboarding, rollerblading, paragliding, etc. One has to hand it to the CIA and its media managers for giving a very innocuous and rather attractive name to a very severe form of torture that they, defying all norms, conventions and laws, regularly employ to torture and extract information from prisoners in the US and rendition centres abroad. This is how the people’s minds are lulled into accepting the most grotesque things as normal and legal. It requires a supremely evil mind to master the art of deception with this degree of finesse and panache.
Waterboarding was developed by the Americans under their advanced training SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) schedule to ensure that captured personnel survive the worst to counter the enemy’s use of methods beyond the pale of the Geneva Conventions on prisoners. The irony of it all is that they are now its most notorious users with even President Bush condoning it. It is really frightening to see how interests, real and imagined, goad governments and states into violence against human beings.
This sport of waterboarding is very simple in its rules and equipment: no elaborate and expensive gadgetry and gears are needed, only a board with devices for restraining the participant because the ecstasy (read pain) that waterboarding provides is so overpowering that the waterboarded ones may break bones and injure themselves in attempts to break free. It also causes permanent psychological damage and leaves them with life-long recurring nightmares.
The hooded participant is securely fastened to the board and a towel placed over his face (I wonder if these towels, like the Wimbledon club’s towels, have the CIA logo embossed on them). Now the real action is all set to begin; the other competitor (read tormentor) sets about to measure the resistance threshold quotient of the participant, to discover how long the waterboarded one resists before agreeing to sing.
A brave journalist, Christopher Hitchens, volunteered to play this sport to experience firsthand what a waterboarding victim undergoes (I have changed his narration to the third person). In the contract of indemnification he signed, the clause, “Water boarding is a potentially dangerous activity in which the participant can receive serious and permanent (physical, emotional and psychological) injuries and even death, including injuries and death due to the respiratory and neurological systems of the body” worried him extremely but he decided to go ahead.
Though not an enemy yet, he was not mollycoddled. He was very gently yet firmly grabbed from behind, pulled to his feet, pinioned by his wrists (which were then cuffed to a belt) and a black hood pulled over his face. To further disorient him, he was turned around a few times and taken to a room where some weird sort of music was playing. He was then pushed onto a tilted board, on which his head was placed below the heart and then, with his legs lashed together, he became unified with the board — the water part followed soon.
Then, three layers of towels were put on his face and abruptly he felt a slow cascade of water going up his nose. Determined to resist, he held his breath for a while but naturally had to exhale and then inhale. The inhalation brought the damp cloth tight against his nostrils, as if a huge, wet paw had been suddenly and annihilatingly clamped over his face and he gave the signal of giving up. He endured it for only 12 seconds. He underwent it the second time as well but lasted only 19 seconds. He emphatically refutes the official lie that waterboarding simulates drowning and says that you are in fact drowning, albeit slowly at the mercy of the tormentors who control its rate. He admits that had he been asked anything he would have spilled all the beans in his bag.
Just imagine, this torture is proudly condoned and employed by the self-professed human rights upholders. Ironically, they prosecuted their people in Vietnam for using this method. What must be going on beyond the gaze of public scrutiny is indeed frightening. Little wonder then that Private Bradley Manning, the WikiLeaks whistleblower, has suffered the harshest treatment from the US. Abu Ghraibs do not happen in a vacuum; there is a lot that is hidden from prying eyes and, as long as the powerful enjoy immunity, this will continue. An Iraqi, Manadel al-Jamadi, died in Abu Ghraib prison after interrogation and torture; his death was labelled a homicide but the torturers, a CIA officer and a private contractor, were let off scot-free.
Now, for a moment, turn your attention to this place where the bodies of the Baloch turn up regularly bearing marks of extreme torture, including drilling. A few days back, the severely tortured bodies of abducted Agha Abid Shah, Tariq Karim (his brother Asim Tariq was similarly killed), both of BSO (Azad), and three other activists were found. Since July 2010, 168 Baloch activists have been killed after abduction. I need not repeat that, quite recently, the Balochistan attorney general accused the FC of these abductions. Prisoners die in police lockups, ordinary citizens and militants die in staged encounters and the army has been accused of extra-judicial killings in troubled areas. The torture in developing countries cannot be curbed if countries like the US continue to use torture as the preferred method of curbing dissent.
Making the powerful answerable for their crimes is the only way to curb these crimes against humanity. I am asking the impossible but this US administration and the previous one as a whole should be arraigned on charges of the violation of the Geneva Conventions on Prisoners and Torture and tried for crimes against humanity, along with those who practice torture here and the world over, and should be kept in a jail for eternity so that horrible crimes like waterboarding are not palmed off as some sort of exotic sport. For as long as torture is officially sanctioned by states and acquiesced in by the world, humanity will continue to be stripped of its dignity without any retribution for the violators.
The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s.
Source: The Daily Times, Pakistan