Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent
header_02 home about login header_06
sidebar-top content-top

Values blur in good and evil

Irfan Yusuf's first book Once Were Radicals about young Muslims flirting with radical Islam was published by Allen & Unwin in May 2009 . This piece, first published in the Canberra Times on Monday, is republished on Webdiary with the author's permssion.

Uncle Sam stands at the top of a flight of stairs, looking more than slightly perplexed. Below him is a windowless chamber its sparse furnishings consist of a lamp, a wooden bench and a closet shaped roughly to the contours of a human body, spikes emerging from its rear wall.

A man hangs from the roof, his ankles bound. Below him stand a Caucasian man dressed in a Nazi uniform, a hooded Spanish inquisitor brandishing a sword and a third man in military fatigues and an Arab head-dress.

All three are watching Uncle Sam, inviting him to join them, the third man stating: ''C'mon down. Once you take the first step, it's easy.''

What I've just described in words is a cartoon by Philadelphia Inquirer cartoonist Tony Auth. It's only now, with debate over the use of torture in the ''war on terror'', that we're discovering just how deep the Leader of the Free World had descended.

The frequent mantra recited by Western political masters was that we were in a war against terrorists who hated us because of who we are, because of our values.

Terrorists despised us for being civilised. They wanted to replace notions such as democracy and the rule of law, which we stood for, with terror and lawlessness. This was a war for civilisation, a fight to defend freedom.

Yet within a mere six months of the 9/11 attacks, top officials of the CIA were happy to flout the rule of law and to breach the very values they claimed to protect.

To use the words of North Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, the Bush administration saw the law as a nicety we could not afford. This new lawlessness incorporated the use of harsh interrogation techniques (read torture) such as waterboarding.

In this torture, a prisoner is bound to an inclined board, his feet raised and his head slightly below the feet; then cloth is wrapped over his face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the prisoners gag reflex is activated and he feels convinced he is drowning. One CIA prisoner, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libbi, is said to have been subjected to waterboarding that proved so effective that he provided false evidence of a link between al-Qaeda and the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein which led to the 2003 invasion. Al-Libbi made these fabricated claims as he was terrified of further harsh treatment.

Even if we accepted claims by United States lawmakers that torture was used to protect Americans, al-Libbi's torture was clearly used for political purposes to justify a war the Bush administration was determined to fight even before the first jets hit the World Trade Center. Once evil means are adopted even for seemingly noble ends, the lines between good and evil soon become blurred.

Al-Libbi's treatment is just the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of people have been detained in various US detention facilities, both known and secret, including in Indonesia, Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Guantanamo Bay.

Among them were two Australian citizens David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib. Yet while US media seem almost fixated with the role that Republican and Democrat lawmakers and US government officials played in ordering and executing torture of detainees, few Australian journalists have considered what role (if any) the Australian government may have played or at least what knowledge it may have had of the torture of Australian citizens at Guantanamo Bay.

And yet now the US is reluctant to settle Guantanamo detainees on its own territory.

Meanwhile US President Barack Obama is reluctant to release further documents and photos of torture conducted by the CIA for fear it will further inflame tensions. It is this very secrecy which provides a perfect cover for even more abuse.

Regardless of how painful the process may be, the US must take responsibility for the consequences of its inquisition. Yet all we seem to be hearing from Obama is empty rhetoric about how the US does not torture the same rhetoric used by his predecessor.

Obama chose Cairo as the location to give his speech to the nominally Muslim world. Cairo was also the place where Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib was sent by the US to have terrorism confessions extracted from him using the most brutal forms of torture. In his memoir My Story: the tale of a terrorist who wasn't, Habib outlined not just his own torture but also the suffering of other inmates also beaten and drugged.

During his Cairo address to an audience of political leaders and diplomats from Muslim-majority states, Obama admitted the US had acted contrary to its ideals by instituting torture. Yet among governments represented were those which will continue to implement the US policy of extraordinary rendition or the secret abduction and transfer of prisoners to countries that will carry out torture on behalf of the US.

The Washington Post reported on February1, 2009, that Obama issued executive orders allowing the CIA to carry on with renditions.

He further allowed the CIA to detain suspects in facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis. America will effectively now outsource Guantanamo-type operations to the generals, sheikhs, colonels, dictators and presidents-for-life who will no doubt torture not just those deemed terror suspects by the US but also domestic political opponents.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recently urged all those involved in the torture process including doctors, nurses, psychologists and lawyers to be pursued and not let off the hook.

Australia and New Zealand can play a role in this process, given that both are the only two nations in the Pacific region to have ratified the Convention Against Torture.

Yet given the lacklustre performance on the part of John Howard and Kevin Rudd on the treatment of former Australian citizen detainees at Guantanamo, one cannot expect too much from Australia.

Terrorists may hate us for our values, but clearly we don't seem to like our values too much either.

[ category: ]

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Good and bad or just good and evil: mea culpa

Just reading the two apparently unrelated conversations going on here at the moment. One in particular is full of crossed wires and misunderstandings.

Yet there is a tie in between these unrelated exchanges; a common thread.

The nigger in the woodpile, the source of all the other misunderstandings global and personal relates to the entities discussed by Richard in his reply to Robyn.

All that comes consequent to the operations of these people: the Murdoch press, the polarised politics, rancour between divided people who could easily be friends - all this commences with a group of people self-interested and unthinking of the consequences of their actions on virtually the rest of the world.

Are they evil, or just creations of that unfolding historical phenomenon that constitutes modern global culture?

I always thought Hannah Arendt had it right with her "banality of evil" take on Eichmann's trial.

Not a lunatic or a sadist, probably owned a dog or cat he wouldn't dream of kicking, just a little penpusher somewhere operating on a cognitive or emotional "lack" (sullied by a little denial) preventing him comprehending the real world and his role in it. Quite rational.

And of course the world is filled with damaged people like Rod Steiger's character in the film The Pawnbroker because life actual is also processive: people so badly damaged and emotionally blinded by their traumatic previous experiences that they in turn becomes unable to foresee or prevent the catastrophe that will emerge from an angry but comprehensible rejection of daily reality and humanity, including their own. What we got with that astonishing film was a reworking of the themes the great poets and tragedians of ancient Athens. No roadmaps or instructions and playthings of forces beyond understanding or control.

But determinism can be a little too much of a cop out. We don't take any responsibility for ourselves? We have no freedom?

No, I go along with the "wriggle room" thesis: not much we can do a lot of the time, but we can at least refuse or protest or object if not able to act, perhaps the only soul we save, if such a thing might exist, might be our own, because self-respect is the only thing really worth having having.

But then, in my heart of hearts, like the heroic Pawnbroker or inadequate Eichmann , I find I sold my soul years ago, or at least failed in my most cherished objectives, so apart from, or because of, a contingent and highly unlikely grace, what I'm left is a retrospective, leading back to culpability and its nature. Most are complicit, yes?

Like Dr Faust, the real problem begins with those of us who know better and return from the event of experience to this time cynically exploit the world disaster, all the more and worse, for the epiphany.

Smug Faust lost his soul for his uncaring response to life. Is this the case with; have or will Cheney, Madoff, Murdoch, Arafat, Mubarak, Hussein, Netanyahu etc, follow suit?

Who amongst us is also doomed, having carelessly crossed the line of least resistance?

I've always enjoyed Mick Jagger's angry, joyous rancorous, cynical Rabelaisian retort in Sympathy for the Devil.

Who was it who committed all the nasty deeds, like "Killing the Kennedys"?


"...After all, it was you and I".

If there is a purpose in life, God alone knows what it is!

But if things have value, compassion must be the rarest and shortest commodity, on a quick glance at the unfolding parade.

Dirty Work

Thanks for the vid, Robyn.  So good to hear from you again!   Sorry to be so long in responding.. I've been away for a few days.

Watching the CACI interpreter talking about KBR folks in Abu Graibh set me thinking again about that Steve Stefanowicz fellow.  Remember him?   He was working for them on the railway, provided a US voice in the post-S/11 Sunday papers, wound up working with dear Lindy England.  Where did such folks disappear to escape accountability?  Kandahar?

 As that soldier said, KBR's antics didn't do much for Army retention rates.

I'm still digging around the timelines, especially regarding infrastructure matters.  For instance, those KBR showers that electrocuted soldiers, including a Green Beret.. were those plans drawn up and implemented through the Adelaide Global Infrastructure headquarters?  It might make an interesting case, but I'm still guessing that the creation of such useful legal loopholes is the reason that paperwork for the dirtywork was (at the very least) postmarked from this city.

Ethics and business are still oxymoronic.. always will be I guess.  Another blurring of the lines. 

US business sets the example

Apologies if fans of Halliburton/KBR have already seen this, but I thought it showed well the sort of values being espoused in Iraq:


Fascism in Israel


And before Alan goes off half cocked and rants about me being an anti-semite he would do well to remember that the refugee convention was written and ratified by the world after our total disregard for human life which led to the world's worst known industrial genocide by a monstrous machine.

Australia was part of the writing of this convention that we have now thrown in the bin.

israel's crime is so much worse because they have forgotten their own history, have become so vile and evil that they just don't care about any life any more.


Marilyn Shepherd, I take great exception to you saying that I would rant about you and call you an anti-semite, I have never ever done that.

I have complained on many occasions on the way I think you have distorted the truth, and the fact that you cannot accept  that Palestinians can fire rockets into Israel and encourage their kids to be suicide bombers. 

So what

Alan, it is legal to resist occupation mate and nothing can change that.

So what

Marilyn Shepherd, it might be legal to resist occupation but the Palestinians will wake up one day and realise that if they keep killing Israelis they are going to get hit back. Nothing can change that.

The Palestinians are a forlorn lot, after all these years some of  them are still living in refugee camps and are being kept there by their own leaders. It is being done for political reasons. It makes you wonder whether they realise what is going on.

unChene(y) my heart

Re "Cheney the not do good shepherd", the Right revisited the clean up of up in the 1970 around the Carter era when in the wake of Chile, Vietnam, Nixon, the oil shock and recession, Intelligence and FBI were cleaned up in the USA. Finally, after Reagan overturned the reforms and Clinton in turn had to come along and clean things up again, Cheney and Bush and the interests they represented finally wormed their way into the trust of a public short of memory, as happened in Australia with Howard and Hansonism, boostered by gutter publicist Alan Jones - Rush Limbaugh's local equivalent - while Murdoch did his global smear campaigns against moderates.

The parallels to the last few years both in America and Australia are also so striking - the public realised how dangerous the threat to democracy from the oligarchic Right had become in the wake of massive policy failure; defeat in war and recession, in pursuit of ego massage, venal and/or delusion ridden weltanschaung and tossed them all out.

With the Cheney example the underlying problem was not lefties hampering legitimate operation of the intelligence organs, but the blatant politicisation and co-opting of these to suppress real information at odds with partisan alibis involving issues like the "weapons of mass destruction" hoax, with resulting bloodshed and then the massive commercial corruption that sheltered under the wing of so-called politics.

While it's true that the suppressed weapons of mass destruction hoax eventually undid Bush/Cheney, in Australia the final straw was Haneef, for whom Parkin was a forerunner. People finally saw how dangerous suppression and even co-opting of information for political purposes without oversight under the umbrella of the "security" excuse could be, but in slightly different ways.

But it also unfortunately equally true that the system responded not with unequivocal repudiation but with a botoxing of image thru media friendly images like Rudd and Obama, rather than underlying structure.

This is the real importance of the work that Marilyn Shepherd and her confederates do.

Not accepting prima facie the system's assurances that things have changed, they continue to question policy and outcomes on the basis of evidence emerging from its current operation, not just because of humanitarian concerns, but because with the precedents some of the legislation set re Habeas Corpus, revealed so stunningly in the Haneef case we all remain, in a sense, as unprotected as the most disempowered refugee.

The bikie legislation, supposedly post-Tory, and the refusal to fully roll back the aboriginal Intervention and Serf Choices, proves that even the new and saner centrist governments here has not grasped the underlying principles involved, as Obama's climb down on Gitmo, another visible tip, also has demonstrated as to America. And in a purportedly "new" age, how does the continuing dumbing down of media give hope or comfort for those seeking the end of the Age of Suppression?

Cheney, the not-so-good shepherd

The story spilling out of the US today is of Cheney sitting at the top of the information food-chain and having info on CIA counterterrorism techniques at his fingertips.  He has apparently violated his oath of office by not passing this information onto Congress, his claims of having complied being repudiated.

We have a situation here, as exemplified by the treatment of Halliburton-activist Parkin, in which ASIO considers revealing its info sources as counterproductive. This is quite understandble in some ways, but now that it's likely that Cheney could pass along stories to Howard and Co under such a cloak of information power.  He could even do this if he was lying to protect his corporate interests. 

I hope ASIO's reading the Oz, the Age and the SMH today.  Perhaps they're rethinking their approach?

Alan, what do you think is fine?

Israel used to torture, they claim now that it has been banned but they continue to torture.

The most astonishing thing about this torture story is that here in Australia we lock up victims of torture and persecution without trial or charge, without lawyers and demand that they beg the minister to let them claim refugee status, something that is their universal right.

We then claim that the Indonesian fishermen must be jailed for "exploiting" them but not one journalist is curious enough to ask just how they do that. Do they crawl around Afghanistan and Iraq looking for victims of persecution and torture or simply give refugees a ride?

DIAC have this hysterical rant on their website about "rings of people smugglers" in the Pacific region - people leave Afghanistan, go to Malaysia or Indonesia and then come here. Apparently it is now people smuggling to leave danger, to use a false visa to enter Malaysia or Indonesia and then come here.

Yet they fail to mention that the refugees are the ones asking for the transport and that they cannot get protection in Indonesia or Malaysia.

Thank heavens two men who sailed straight to Christmas Island, tied up at the docks and went to sleep have pleaded not guilty.

We have not forced one charge against one torturer in the Afghan government - according to Malalai Joya, MP, 60-80% of the Afghan government that we are paying for are warlords, Taliban commanders, terrorist organisers, mass murderers and drug barons who awarded themselves freedom from prosecution.

It's bizarre - of the 290 "processed" this year on Christmas Island 277 have been granted permanent residence but we have wasted $11 million just on their jail charges while our normal contribution to refugees is about $1 per person per annum.

$11 million on jail charges so that thirteen people can be rejected or choose to go home. Does anyone else understand how completely stupid that is?

Not all here

Richard Tonkin: "Habib's lawyer Stephen Hopper has said his client had suffered endless physical and psychological abuse while imprisoned at the facility."

Of course his lawyer would say that, especially as it looks as though it could be a nice little earner. As for you not being able to find anything about the alleged torture of Hicks, you left this little bit out:

"Regular visits by Australian officials to Guantanamo Bay have confirmed that Hicks and Habib are being treated humanely, [the most recent of which was] conducted in the first week of November."

Left out? Simple

Alan, you fail to mention that your last quote was made by a spokesman for Downer.  You expect me to treat this as a credible source? Where'd this news come from, the US ambassador who said that Hicks and Habib would probably be locked up "for the duration of the War on Terror"?  

On the same line of reasoning that I don't consider a lawyer's claim as proof positive of anything, I can't take claims coming from Downer and Howard on this matter with any credibilty either.  I'm not going to quote stuff if I can't tell who invented it, are you?

Look at the methods the FBI claim were being utilised.  Do they sound "humane" to you?

Worse still is that, away from the eyes of the FBI, the UN has proof that Aussie spooks were using torture methods to get information.  In all good conscience, are you prepared to ignore this? It seems that you wouldn't be alone.

Ask around your mates and see what they think, hypothetically, of Australia extracting information from people in this manner. You might be surprised. 

At some stage a catalogue of atrocites will emerge.  I hope that by then the denialists have reset their moral compass.  

Whoever you cite, please, please, don't expect to me to take the word of anyone with a track record of attempting to "win" by telling straight-faced lies, foremostly Alexander Downer.


Alan Curran, to answer your question to Marilyn from another thread..

SMH 2004:

The Pentagon is looking into new abuse allegations at Guantanamo Bay after the release of emails written by FBI agents that tell of harsh treatment against detainees.

The emails claim prisoners have been left in their own excrement, chained in ice-cold or super-hot cells and were subjected to other interrogation techniques that caused one prisoner to pull his hair from his head.

Australians Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks are being detained at the US military prison in Cuba.

Habib's lawyer Stephen Hopper has said his client had suffered endless physical and psychological abuse while imprisoned at the facility, including beatings and being told his wife and family were dead.

Hicks, meanwhile, has stated in an affidavit that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were beaten while blindfolded and handcuffed, terrorised by dogs and forced to take drugs.

News.com.au 2008:

AN FBI agent watched Australian detainee Mamdouh Habib repeatedly vomit during a marathon interrogation session at Guantanamo Bay in 2004, according to a long-awaited US Justice Department report released today.

The agent said Mr Habib, a former Sydney taxi driver held at the US military prison at Guantanamo for more than two years, endured two 15-hour interrogation sessions with only a short break in between.

The report said "(Mr)Habib's condition did not bother" the agent at the time of the interrogation, "but in retrospect she questioned whether the treatment of (Mr) Habib was appropriate".

Details about Mr Habib's confinement at Guantanamo, including an alleged assault inflicted by a private-contract interrogator with Lockheed Martin, were included in the 370-page report that took the Department of Justice more than three years to compile.

More than 1000 FBI employees who served at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were surveyed to ascertain if FBI agents witnessed detainee abuse, reported abuse to superiors, and if agents participated in abuse.

Of the more than 450 FBI agents who served at Guantanamo, the report found almost half "observed or heard about various rough or aggressive treatment of detainees, primarily by military interrogators".

I can't find testimonial of FBI observance of Hicks' torture, but that there's enough confirmation that they were observing such practices being perpetrated in Guantanamo at the time of his incarceration. Good enough for me.

PS Irfan, many thanks.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
© 2005-2011, Webdiary Pty Ltd
Disclaimer: This site is home to many debates, and the views expressed on this site are not necessarily those of the site editors.
Contributors submit comments on their own responsibility: if you believe that a comment is incorrect or offensive in any way,
please submit a comment to that effect and we will make corrections or deletions as necessary.
Margo Kingston Photo © Elaine Campaner

Recent Comments

David Roffey: {whimper} in Not with a bang ... 12 weeks 6 days ago
Jenny Hume: So long mate in Not with a bang ... 12 weeks 6 days ago
Fiona Reynolds: Reds (under beds?) in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Justin Obodie: Why not, with a bang? in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Fiona Reynolds: Dear Albatross in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Michael Talbot-Wilson: Good luck in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Fiona Reynolds: Goodnight and good luck in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 3 days ago
Margo Kingston: bye, babe in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 6 days ago