In 2008, the US Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) brought a federal lawsuit – Al Shimari v. CACI . This lawsuit addresses the torture of four Iraqi men, held in Abu Ghraib prison during 2003-2004, by the private contractor CACI International Inc. and CACI Premier Technology Inc. The case is the last Abu Ghraib case in the system and, if it goes to trial, will be heard in the midst of the Trump Presidency.
The CCR assert “that CACI directed and participated in illegal conduct, including torture, at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq where it was hired by the U.S. to provide interrogation services”. The case covers violations of US and international law – including war crimes, sexual assaults and tortures.
The four victims – Suhail Najim Abdullah Al Shimari; Taha Yaseen Arraq Rashid; Asa’ad Hamza Hanfoosh Zuba’e; Salah Hasan Nusaif Al-Ejaili – were all released without ever being charged of any crime. They all continue to suffer mental and physical injuries from their torture that included electric shocks, food deprivation, being threatened by dogs, stress positions, beatings, sexual assaults, sensory deprivation, and being kept naked.
I am moved to write this commentary by the situation in the Philippines, where the president, Rodrigo Duterte, not only rose to power urging his people to kill drug “addicts”, but has now turned a blind eye, even encouraged, the extra-judicial killings of more than 8000 drug users, their families and friends.
This is a tragedy, not only for those who have been killed, but for human rights advocates and for anyone who uses drugs. How did we arrive at this situation?
The legacy of society’s decades-long (and ineffective) “war on drugs”, coupled with centuries of stereotypes and misinformation about drugs and drug users, has created an intense stigma around people who use drugs, built on a morally laden hysteria often directed at those least able to defend themselves.
At the heart of this book is an aim to address systemic and structural oppressions which facilitate violence against women, but also which socially hinder the wellbeing of people seeking asylum more generally once they have reached relative safety. Ultimately, I am arguing that the British asylum system is structurally harmful in that it is built to regulate, control and dehumanise those who pass through its processes and whose lives depend on its policies.
There is no one aspect that is singularly harmful – not detention, not destitution – but a culmination of procedures which reduce or eradicate autonomy, produce existential banality, and ultimately cause further emotional, physical and relational harms to survivors of violence and persecution. Importantly, many of these processes mirror or are mirrored in the global arena of securitisation and border controls, and expansion rather than reduction is increasingly the main objective of states and nations across the world. Continue reading Asylum, Gendered Harms and Structural Violence→
In NZ, At Risk Units hold prisoners who are ‘at risk’ of suicide or self-harm. They are environments of deprivation. In 2016, the Ombudsman’s Office reported daily routines of long prisoner lockdowns in ‘bleak’ and ‘grim’ conditions (2016a, 2016b). ARU prisoners are usually locked in a barren cell for up to 23 hours a day. Clothed in anti-rip gowns, they are watched via camera all the time, including when they use their in-cell toilet.
In an unannounced visit to Otago, the Ombudsman found an ARU prisoner who was held ‘in a waist restraint with his hands cuffed behind his back…due to his self-harming’ (Ombudsman, 2016c:17). Over two and a half months, the man had spent at least 21 hours a day in the restraint:
“He was un-cuffed every two hours during the day and every four hours at night in order to stretch his muscles, take a shower or eat his meals (average three hours unlock a day). He was able to watch some TV in his cell from late afternoon” (Ombudsman, 2016c:18).
On the campaign trail and now in office, President Trump has made his position on torture very clear: It works, and even if it doesn’t, “they deserve it anyway.”
Trump delivered this applause line at a rally in Ohio in late 2015, and again a few months later in South Carolina. In a debate among Republican presidential candidates early last year, he said he would bring back “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” Last month, as president, he affirmed his stance, telling ABC News: “We have to fight fire with fire.”
Until the president signs an executive order on the treatment of terrorism suspects, we will not know what his administration’s exact designs are, or if they are legal or achievable. But in at least one significant way, damage has already been done…Trump’s repeated pro-torture statements have already created a more permissive atmosphere for torture. The effects may be felt sooner, and closer to home, than we would like to think. Continue reading Bringing Torture to US Neighborhoods→
The Open Letter to Prime Minister Bill English, calling for an independent inquiry to deal with abuse of children under state care, has been steadfastly downplayed by the government. ‘E Kore Ano, Never Again!’ is the rallying call from the Human Rights Commission and its supporters. ‘Nah’ came the reply. Elizabeth Stanley tackles the government’s reasons for refusal. Continue reading E Kore Ano, Never Again!→
The refusal to mount an independent inquiry on behalf of those who suffered horrendous physical, sexual and psychological abuse in state care is staggering.
This morning the prime minister, John Key, has joined his social development minister, Anne Tolley, in defending the government’s approach to victims of horrendous physical, sexual and psychological abuse. They are sticking to the plan: victims of state-institutional abuse should confidentially engage with the Ministry of Social Development, waive their entitlement to legal rights, and gratefully receive an individual apology for the horrors against them. For those who might empathise with the ongoing public disclosures of historic and contemporary abuse emanating from institutions across the ditch, rest assured: there’s Nothing To See Here.
If only that were the case. In my book, The Road to Hell, 105 New Zealanders tell their stories of being placed under state care and held in welfare residences. Representing just a fraction of the experiences of more than 100,000 children who progressed through these institutions from the 1950s to the 1990s, their testimonies are chilling. Continue reading Nothing to See Here→