Saturday, 19 November 2005: Torture doesn't stop terror. Torture is terror
Survivors of torture and other ill-treatment in Guantánamo Bay spoke at a conference hosted by Amnesty International (AI) and Reprieve. For several, this was the first time they had seen each other since their release. For two of them, it was the first time they had met, even though they had been held in neighbouring cages.
Eight UK nationals told their stories of how they ended up in Guantánamo and the horrors they endured. In stark contrast to US President George Bush's assertion that the USA does not torture, Moazzam Begg, a UK national who was held in the US-run detention centre, said that "torture does happen, it continues to happen, and it destroys lives."
He and other former detainees spoke of being shackled in painful stress positions, their extreme fear and exhaustion, the lack of medical care, the beatings and broken bones. They highlighted how the rule of law was denied to those in Guantánamo. One reported that, on arrival, he was told by a US soldier "you have no rights to make a phone call, to see a lawyer, to do anything except what we tell you."
With torture thriving in secrecy and the US government blocking meaningful access to Guantánamo, Clive Stafford Smith, Legal Director of Reprieve, said, "if we open Guantánamo up, they will have to close it down."
A panel of experts looked at how to challenge the practice of "outsourcing" torture and the use of "evidence" obtained from torture abroad. Governments that want to ignore the ban on sending people to countries where they risk torture or other ill-treatment have sought "diplomatic assurances" that the person will not be ill-treated on arrival. These assurances were described as not worth the paper they are written on.
Elsewhere, delegates shared their campaigning and legal strategies to combat torture.
The day ended with several family members in tears, talking about their loved ones in Guantánamo Bay.
The conference continues with detainees, family members, lawyers and other activists not only sharing stories but, as Irene Khan, AI Secretary General, said, "harnessing the voices of all who know that torture doesn't stop terror. Torture is terror."
Sunday, 20 November 2005: Torture is killing a person without them dying
"I didn't want to make a big, grand speech. I am just deeply hurt," a mother said after talking about her son detained in Guantánamo Bay. As they did yesterday at the conference hosted by Amnesty International and Reprieve, family members expressed the difficulties and desperation of not knowing if their loved one is being tortured and whether they will ever see them again.
One US research group estimates there to be some eight to 15 secret detention sites throughout the world in at least eight countries. It's believed that detainees are being moved from site to site to evade public knowledge and scrutiny and that foreign intelligence agents are being used to extract information, usually through torture and ill-treatment.
Prolonged incommunicado detention can amount to torture. A Canadian, picked up in a US Airport, sent to Jordan and then to Syria, agreed -- the 10 months and 10 days he was held alone in a dark cell 0.9 meters long by 1.8 meters deep by 2.1 meters high was torture, as were the beatings he received.
When people are held in secret detention and the authorities refuse to disclose their fate or whereabouts, they are described as having been "disappeared". Such "disappearances" often go hand-in-hand with torture and other ill-treatment.
Family members of people who have been "disappeared" are themselves being ill-treated when deliberately deprived of any information and are desperate for news. But as a panelist noted, "while the government practice of 'disappearances' may erase someone from society for a time, the memory of the person cannot be erased. This memory is what spurs family, friends, activists to search for them, no matter what. Eventually, the truth comes out."
The conference discussed the medical impact and effects of torture. One medical expert described torture as "killing a person without them dying". Juvenile detentions, problems with the repatriation of formers detainees, as well as litigation strategies and the role of the UN in defense of individuals' rights were addressed by ex-detainees, family members, lawyers and other activists.
Despite the immense challenges, participants are making new contacts, sharing ideas and strategies and exploring new approaches to combating torture together.
The conference day ended on a rousing note with an impromptu rap performed by an ex-detainee released earlier this year after more than two and a half years in Guantánamo Bay.
Monday, 21 November 2005: Guantánamo: only the tip of the iceberg
“Where is public outrage?" asked Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, on the final day of conference the organisation has hosted with Reprieve conference.
In the past three days, the conference has highlighted Guantánamo, where many conference delegates have spent time, as the public face of authority stepping outside the rule law in the name of the "war on terror".
However, Guantánamo is only the tip of an iceberg of abuse. Secret detentions, renditions, unfair trials and "disappearances" are practices that fuel torture and create division; ultimately endangering us all.
"We are forced to grapple with a betrayal of common values, double standards and double speak," Ms. Khan said. "Only through continuing to work together: ex-detainees, families, lawyers and other activists -- using a variety of tactics, from media work to litigation, demonstrations to letter-writing -- can we end the abuse and combat impunity for torture and other ill-treatment."
"Through AI's global network of activists in 74 countries, we must galvanize public opinion to work towards achieving security through the respect of human rights and dignity. We each must take the responsibility of shattering public apathy. "
In the words of Clive Stafford-Smith, Reprieve's Legal Director: "What are YOU going to do about it?"