Raw Feelings

When I woke up this morning, this page  2015-02-01 06.18.54 of the New York Times’ weekend edition lay around openly. It carries the highly pixelated shape of a person in an orange jumpsuit, hands tied behind his back, on his knees.

It brought back immediately my memories of a specific moment yesterday. When the news exploded into the world that this black clothed butcher with the deep British accent, the executor of IS, had decapitated Kenji Goto, the Japanese journalist who had been captured earlier, I looked up the video that had been put on the web by IS. Here is a link to the news and facts from yesterday.

On the other hand, the open page of the NYT that I found this morning, it is about a book review: “Guantanamo Diary“, by Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Mark Danner reviews the book for NYT, starting with the following: “On or about Sept. 11, 2001, American character changed. What Americans had proudly flaunted as “our highest values” were now judged to be luxuries that in a new time of peril for the country could ill afford.”
The text continues, making reference also to former Vice President Dick Cheney, when asked recently about an innocent man been tortured to death in an American “black site”, did not hesitate. “I’m more concerned,” he said, “with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.”

I wrote about torture, cruelty, and why I believe that certain acts of utmost inhumanity need to be banished for all accounts and purposes, not leaving any ground for legal or ethical justification, earlier.

But here is the thing:

I would certainly claim that I am hardened by uncounted situations, and pictures and movies thereof, what human cruelty can do to others. Yet, none of those experiences leaves me cool, unaffected. Yesterday, I decided to look up the propaganda video of IS before it would be removed from the most accessible sites again. I wanted to understand more about what is referred to as a highly professional propaganda machinery. IS is acting through intense use of media, far away from amateurish make, brushed up with professional effects, using an identifiable style guide. So I assumed that this is not just a simple broadcasting of cruelty, but that it carries deliberate messages, likely tailored for different target groups.

Well, I am certainly having difficulties to understand those in the target group of potential supporters for whatever the cause of these devils are, I can’t really relate to the mindset of somebody who might be tempted to become what we name a “Foreign Terrorist Fighter” in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2178 (2014).

But I do understand the feelings of those who are target of the antagonization which sits at the heart of this media strategy. I refuse to give these criminals the legitimacy they aspire, what they want to be seen as, like fighting for a caliphate with authority, brutally enforced legitimacy, and territory. I continue to name them torturers, heinous murderers, or, let me just be a little politically incorrect, heartless beings with no soul.

Felling better, having said that.

However, I also refuse to name them “animals”. That is a trick which is frequently used by those who want to establish legitimacy for their own unethical and horrible action. The Nazis created the word “Untermensch”, shamefully staining the German history. Many others did, and continue to do, exactly the same. By depriving somebody from being considered a human being, genocidaires and mass murderers can justify action that otherwise would be morally or ethically questionable, and it makes it easier for the killers who they need, to kill for them.

No, this butcher may be whatever curse I can find for him (feeling better thereafter), but he remains a human being. As such, my rules of the game apply for what I stand for: Humanity.


When I saw the video yesterday, I was immediately overwhelmed by a complex mixture of feelings including rage, despair, deepest sadness, shock. I cried and needed to compose myself immediately again, because some children were in the other room.

From then on, I literally obsessed for hours, when ever I had a minute, about what I would do if I would get my hands on this black clad coward butcher. Yes, coward, because he is hiding his ugly face. I do not. I had all sorts of day dreams about how to torture this man, in detail.

It took me a hard time to recover into my spirituality, into not only understanding on an intellectual level that this is EXACTLY what they want us to feel, but also to admit on my spiritual level that any such retaliation would be wrong for all intents and purposes.

We only have one chance to demonstrate our values: By adhering to them. So I am talking about my values here.

I remember my father. I was young, and he would refer to Jesus’ sentence saying that if one gets slapped on one cheek, one should offer the other cheek to the offender, too. My father often said that he would have difficulties with that. Instead, he considered some situations justifying the principle “An Eye for an Eye”.

I have two answers, one with my heart, one with my brain:

My heart tells me that I would give up my soul, and my spirituality, if I would give in into ripping that butcher’s nails off his fingers and toes, one by one. Well, it gives me some relief thinking about it, though, frankly. But that’s about it, that’s about as far as I can go, and it already makes me praying for that this resentment is taken away from me with the help of my Higher Power.

Secondly, my brain tells me that this is exactly what these groups want us to feel: They thrive from this. Because, amongst other reasons, think about what they did, too: They requested 100 Million USD ransom money.

They are not only a bunch of terrorists. They belong to an organized crime organization, they capture people in order to make money in order to exercise power. They are true sociopaths, like every organized crime group is, because they give an ethical and moral damn about how to generate money, how to establish power. If they can make more money by legal means, they will just do that. If they can make more money by chopping heads off, well, they will just do that.

That is who they are. In their cold and well crafted strategy, they aim at taking our values away from us, by making us doing what they do.

They are sociopathic criminals. They don’t feel anything like empathy. So, we treat them as such. We apply the rule of law to them. Because that is what is protecting our values, and our humanity.

Never. Never again.

Never Again – Never Forget

This is the fourth installment on coercion, and torture. What I want to address here is a broader context, including atrocities that haunt us, seemingly without end. History is full of shameful chapters where we did it again, and again, and again.

I ended my third entry with the question “How to argue that there are forms of coercion that need to be banned in their entirety?”. This is where I begin to take it up today.

In my line of work, the phrase “Never Again” is meaning a lot, used quite often, triggering many memories. Some of those memories relate to direct experiences with atrocities that I have witnessed. Some of them relate to atrocities that have set the stage for my desire to contribute to peace operations. Some of these do deeply affect the corporate conscience of the United Nations, in places where we failed to prevent atrocities, such as in Rwanda, and in Bosnia&Herzegovina. The earliest memories of wishing that it shall never happen again relate to the history of my country, Germany, before I was born. The history of my country, and how I was told, and learned about it, has formed main parts of my conscience.

In an earlier blog post, I referred to an Op Ed in the New York Times, Dec. 9, 2014, by Eric Fair: “I Can’t Be Forgiven for Abu Ghraib⁠1”. Eric Fair, an Army veteran, was a contract interrogator in Iraq in 2004. In 2014, he was a Professor for creative writing at Lehigh University. Parts of his Op Ed deal with his revealing to his students what he did, in Iraq. He tortured. His Op Ed for sure is stirring up a lot of emotions, and I can only imagine that many of them will be very controversial, especially by those who have suffered from torture trauma, either being victims, or perpetrators (they too become victims, later on, may be even those with strong sociopathic traits⁠2). Eric Fair ends the Op Ed with the following sentences: “In some future college classroom, a professor will require her students to read about the things this country did in the early years of the 21st century. She’ll assign portions of the Senate torture report. There will be blank stares and apathetic yawns. There will be essays and writing assignments. The students will come to know that this country isn’t always something to be proud of.”

Not even scratching the surface of the never ending row of atrocities in mankind’s history, how does “Never Again” work if we seem to constantly forget, and/or seem not to be able to abstain, even given the overwhelming testimony of what we are able to do to our brothers and sisters if we allow ourselves running unleashed?

What possible comfort can be drawn from a catch phrase that we so notoriously use, use it again, or may even use it for other situations whilst we stained our conscience ourselves?

Should we give that intent up?

For the record, I am not arguing this. I hear this sometimes, and in a more depressing mood this question can occur to me, too. Recently, I read an essay in “Harper’s Magazine⁠3”, titled “Against Human Rights”, by Eric A. Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. This essay is so upsetting that I may dissect it at a later opportunity. It serves as an example for the, in my view, most dangerous rationale that would suggest that, because standing up for Human Rights allegedly did not work (which is untrue), the concept itself might be outdated (which is devilish).

As a child, and as a young adult, I believed in the notion that thousands of years of civilization had a cumulative effect, that somehow this effect would lead to a thicker cultural skin, that atrocities were less likely to happen, taking into account some societal learning. I may be excused for that naivety. I was a growing up teenager in a country that had not experienced war ever during my lifetime, had not participated in one. Neither I was confronted with actual atrocities we were committing, none that we had to actually suffer from. That all was part of a past long gone. During the 1970’s my political conscience began to grow. As a people, we were acutely conscious of the atrocities of the Holocaust that we had committed a few decades ago. This led to generations of young German citizens who had no direct experience with war, with killing, with torture, sadism, genocide.

The generations to which I relate, we grew up with a lot of guilt, and shame, for what our forefathers did. This type of German conscience was, and is, strong in saying “Never Again”. This is true until today, and it took me a very long time, and my direct exposition to the Hell that Mankind can create on Earth after I began to work in peace operations, to relate to why it is so incredibly important to uphold the call for “Never Again”. I can only speak for my generations, and I can only explain the context from what I experienced, and continue to experience, in some of the most brutal conflicts of today’s World. Whether there is a different conscience in younger people in Germany, very much along the lines of Eric Fair’s question at the end of his Op-Ed, I don’t exactly know.

However, this is precisely what Eric Fair is referring to: How can one ensure a remaining understanding, being part of a societal and individual conscience, that certain acts are acts of Hell on Earth, and that there simply shall not be any tolerance for them, justification of them, or committing them?

April 07, 2004 I attended a town hall meeting of the United Nations in Pristina, Kosovo. On this day, the United Nations commemorates the genocide that happened 1994 in Rwanda. Throughout approximately 100 days, Hutu extremists killed an estimated 500,000 to one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu.⁠4, as a consequence of a brutal, systematic, well organized genocide. For comprehensive reading, I recommend Lt. Gen. Romeo Daillaire, “Shake Hands With The Devil⁠5”.

This April 07 in 2004 was a very special day for me: I was the Police Commissioner in charge of 4.500 international police officers and 6.500 Kosovo Police Service officers, within the United Nations Interim Mission in Kosovo. A little more than two weeks earlier, we had fought off three days of massive violence in Kosovo. There had been civil unrest on which some ring leaders had hooked up, deciding that it was now the time to drive the Serb minority population out of Kosovo. It was an attempted ethnic cleansing happening under the eyes of the United Nations and NATO. Together with our military NATO colleagues, my police officers and I engaged in fighting this off. Long story short, I claim that we succeeded. However, at the end of these three days we mourned killed and injured civilians, injured police officers and soldiers, a large new number of internally displaced persons, and the demolition of cultural Serb Orthodox heritage and uncounted Kosovo-Serb houses.

We were tired, shocked, recovering, regrouping. Within this deeply emotional phase, on April 07 we watched documentary about the Rwanda genocide. After watching this movie, the Principal Deputy of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, my friend Charles Brayshaw, was supposed to address us, assembled commemorating this genocide. He began with stating “Never Again”. As he wanted to continue his speech, his voice broke, tears were all over his face. He stopped, just with these two words. Because this is what we had lived up for during these three nightmare days. We had prevented it.

Yesterday, I walked the streets of Manhattan, on my way to a bookstore. It was cold, dark, a mixture of slush and rain was attempting to penetrate my coat. I thought about that I am growing 57 this month. I asked myself: “What is it that I want to see staying beyond? What will be the result of my contribution, when I die?”

All of a sudden I saw it: It’s not an accumulation of more. It’s about keeping the flame lit, to be a part of those who carry it.

There may be a future in which we will be able to fully commit to “Never Again”. But whether that is so, and when, we don’t know yet. However, one thing is clear: Until it will never happen again, it is about “Never Forget”.

That is why Eric Posner is wrong: The effects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights may be disappointing, or not. I humbly disagree, but even more, abandoning them creates Hell on Earth. If we deprive people from inalienable human rights just because they have done this to us, we do not only enter into the “An Eye for an Eye” age again.

Rather, we allow the Doors of Armageddon to open.

1 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/10/opinion/the-torture-report-reminds-us-of-what-america-was.html?nytmobile=0&_r=0

2 As one of the most vivid examples for that even individuals with obviously strong sociopaths traits can be overwhelmed by a “gollum-like” recognition of what they have become, once their denial is broken up, watch the amazing documentary “The Act of Killing”. But beware, this goes under your skin! From the synopsis on the website http://theactofkilling.com: “…When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, Anwar and his friends were promoted from small-time gangsters … to death squad leaders. They helped the army kill more than one million alleged communists, ethnic Chinese, and intellectuals in less than a year. As the executioner for the most notorious death squad in his city, Anwar himself killed hundreds of people with his own hands.

Today, Anwar is revered as a founding father of a right-wing paramilitary organization that grew out of the death squads. The organization is so powerful that its leaders include government ministers, and they are happy to boast about everything from corruption and election rigging to acts of genocide.

…Unlike ageing Nazis or Rwandan génocidaires, Anwar and his friends have not been forced by history to admit they participated in crimes against humanity. Instead, they have written their own triumphant history, becoming role models for millions of young paramilitaries. The Act of Killing is a journey into the memories and imaginations of the perpetrators, offering insight into the minds of mass killers. And The Act of Killing is a nightmarish vision of a frighteningly banal culture of impunity in which killers can joke about crimes against humanity on television chat shows, and celebrate moral disaster with the ease and grace of a soft shoe dance number.

3 Harper’s Magazine, Vol. 329, No. 1973, October 2014; http://www.harpers.org; Harper’s Magazine Foundation, 666 Broadway, New York, USA

4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Kagame

5 ISBN 0 09 947893 5

Legal and Ethical Aspects of Coercive Interrogation Methods, Including Torture

Come to think of how I want to continue with my second blog entry on this topic, it is no easy feat.

In my first blog entry (Dec 22, 2014, click on the category “Torture”) I began with my personal experience with what I decided to qualify as an act of torture: Two months into my police education and training, a trainee colleague of mine had to witness how a man in a holding cell was physically abused through repeated slapping into the face, because he decided not to reveal his identity after arrest. I wrote about how this was a defining experience for me. All of a sudden, too early, I found myself in a situation where I was presented with the unsettling and fearsome question of what I was supposed to do: Not accepting it, and how to act on this information? Risking my very young career? Becoming complicit, by not doing anything? As always, there is no easy answer for this when you have no power, when you are at the low end of the food chain, when decisive action may threaten you, when you are at the beginning of a process developing your values, and your skills.

I felt powerless, and I felt this was not directly affecting me (ultimately, it was up to my colleague to act, so, was I excused?). I realized that I had no immediate means available to me, means that would be proportionate and, at the same time, protect me. I kind of muddled through.

What happens very often though during early times of integration into a peer group is a form of rationalization which runs counter to official education at the Police Academy: Exposed to the reality, the value system of a rookie will be formed by what hard-nosed long standing (and sometimes questionable) police officers tell you. “Don’t listen to what they are teaching you at school, this is the reality” is what you are going to hear. This is a real challenge for formal education, and teaching values. Not only in the Police. It’s always the same. These processes erode integrity, and especially the fragile integrity of the young and vulnerable trainees. As a trainee, you want to get out of this situation quickly. I was sometimes watching my young colleagues in a state of mimicry, pretending they had an experience that they did not have. The result is a loss of depth of thinking, through massive reduction of the effects that learning has. Copying appears to be the easy learning. I guess I was the same, but I remember that I refused to give up ideals, and dreams.

I do see a link between remaining complacent, by staying silent, by saying: “I have no dogs in this fight.”, and growing gaps between laudable objectives of organizations, and the reality of how they behave.
I believe since long that there are fights in which everyone has to have dogs in.

This one, the fight against accepting torture under some inhumane justification which pretends that there is a higher good than fundamental human rights that everybody is entitled to, no matter what this individual has done, or is alleged to have done, this is one of those fights.

In my first blog entry I also introduced what is known as “coercive interrogation methods”: Not every act of coercive interrogation qualifies as torture, and even, depending on the applicable legislation of the State one is a member of, not every coercive interrogation method is illegal. I will explain, and I need to begin with the legally applicable framework of the State I grew up in: Germany.

Within the criminal procedural code of Germany, we know the legal concept of “prohibited interrogation methods”. In a nutshell, this means that not only I have to tell a person who is considered a suspect in a criminal investigation, at the beginning of a formal interrogation, which rights this person has. Here in the U.S., this is known as the “reading the Miranda Rights”. In any legal framework compliant to internationally accepted criminal procedural law respecting inalienable human rights, a suspect of a criminal investigation has the right not to cooperate, the right to remain silent, the right to not tell the truth. In the system I grew up in, the burden of proof sits with the State, represented by me, a police officer, acting on behalf of a public prosecutor. If a suspect is deciding not to cooperate, this shall not be held against her or him.

A suspect may lie, but I, as a police officer in my German system, I shall not act with the intent to actively establish a false belief. Though I am not obliged to correct an error the suspect is falling victim to, I am not allowed to actively create a false belief which then, in turn, makes the suspect revealing a fact that he or she would not have decided to reveal otherwise. Example 1: A suspect fears that other suspects may, or may have, confessed. As a police officer, I do not have an obligation to tell this individual what I know. I can keep this information for me (and observe the suspects’ painful deliberations about what I may know, or not). If he or she then decides to confess, believing that others may have done that as well, that is permitted. The information gained from this interview will be admissible in court proceedings. Example 2: I am telling a suspect that his or her partner in crime has confessed, though this is not true. If this suspect then confesses, he or she may later challenge the admissibility of this confession within court proceedings, as this information has been retrieved against the free will of this individual.

Within the German criminal procedural system, example 2 is an example for interrogation methods that are prohibited by law. Criminal procedural systems in other countries are different, at times somewhat less strict. Another example is the difference between an “Undercover Agent” and a so-called “Agent Provocateur”. Whilst I can infiltrate a criminal organization with the help of a fake identity, in Germany I can not actively provoke a criminal act (the meaning of “agent provocateur”). In that case, I may even be subject to a criminal investigation. As an undercover agent, I may witness a criminal act, which then may lead to arrests and my admissible testimony in a court proceeding, but under no circumstances I am allowed to incite a criminal act. Not every legal system prohibits the use of an agent provocateur, though.

The logic is clear: An active influence of the State, which is also the legislative authority having established the criminal code according to which certain acts are punishable by criminal law, is not permitted. The same authority which establishes the criminal code labeling a certain behavior as profoundly antisocial can not incite such behavior, on an assumption perhaps that this rotten individual would have done it anyway, with, or without a “little active help” (so, who cares whether he or she got a little push).

As I said, different legislations hold different views on this. But in all these cases, the essence lies with that a person has a free will to decide. For example, to decide to cooperate, or not, or to decide to commit a crime, or not.

Interim: This is one defining element that connects all “coercive interrogation methods” with torture, because torture is a subset, the worst one. I quote Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture again: “… torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

By logic, any coercive method obtaining information or a confession which does not lead to severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, intentionally inflicted, is not torture. It may be something else, including constituting a crime, but its not torture. Yelling at, and insulting an individual may be a form of verbal or even physical abuse, and I may commit a crime, but its not torture. Tricking a suspect into a confession by using a blunt lie may even be less than a crime (I might breach discipline, though). In my legal system in Germany all these methods are not permitted, whilst some are, in other systems. However, torture is not permitted in any system of a country that is a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture. Torture is the worst and most horrible form of coercion the world knows about.

A torture victim and a rape victim are subjected to exactly the same form of brutality, humiliation, and utter helplessness. Torture is a monstrous sibling within a larger family of zombies, one of his sisters is rape, one brother is sadism. The plight and pain they have inflicted on mankind includes unspeakable horror, until today. I will write about some of those darkest chapters in history of humankind, including the Holocaust, later, in another blog entry. I will argue why torture needs to be condemned, and banned, in its entirety. Because there is no such thing like a little torture, and much torture. Once an act is qualified as torture, it is. With no justification at all.

The question is: Who decides whether an act constitutes torture? In my system, it’s the courts who do. Once an act is qualified as torture, there simply is no justification for it. Because otherwise, also a little rape, and a little sadism, can be justified for whatever one defines as a higher good. The lessons of history explain why that shall not happen: Because it always led to that the monster was producing two types of victims: the tortured, and the torturers. Yes, them too. Read this.

What about coercive methods then which are below the threshold of torture, taking into account what I wrote above: That different systems are differently permissive when it comes to coercion? My ultimate yardstick is compliance with, and adherence to, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international humanitarian law, and international (criminal) law. Methods of coercion that meet these standards may be subject to deliberation within national legislation and I would not challenge them from a UN perspective, whatever personal opinion I may have on that matter. Personally, I am objecting against all of them.

In this second chapter, I wanted to touch both legal and ethical implications. The ethical ones really make the topic of torture a very tough nut. I experienced this myself:

Between 1987 and 1989 I received my senior education leading to my Masters Degree in Public Administration. For this, together with my fellow students, I studied at the German Police University, having been an accomplished police officer by then for many years already. The campus of this University was where scholarship, students, and practitioners would meet.
One day, a senior police commander presented to us the case of a recent high profile abduction case he had been in charge of, recently. A child had been abducted and the perpetrator/perpetrators had sent in information according to which the child was likely buried alive. The objective of the police, naturally, was to safe the live of the child, and, if possible, also to arrest the perpetrator(s). Nobody knew whether there were one, or several perpetrators.
The negotiation team of the police held contact, and a special police operation was preparing the handover of the requested ransom money. This was the only chance for the team to get into contact with at least one perpetrator. This person or group had been extremely professional, no other lead to this person, group, or whereabouts of the victim existed.
When it came to the prepared handover of the ransom money through a specialized police team, the police commander decided to arrest the suspect who showed up. Now the clock was ticking, and yet, there was no information about other suspects, and the whereabouts of the child were unknown.
This police commander told us in his presentation: “Given this situation, I ordered the suspect to be beaten up in order to reveal the location of the victim, if he would not cooperate”. The suspect, obviously, received physical abuse, the location was identified, the child was rescued unharmed.

Clearly, at this stage of my police education, I was very conscious that this was, by all accounts, borderline or prohibited, that no law existed permitting this action. I know this commander very well, he is in retirement now, a dedicated and deeply humane police leader. There was never a criminal investigation.

I realized that there are situations where law does not provide a safety net, where there is no legal way justifying action. This colleague of mine was presented with a situation where inaction led to the likely death of a small child, and no path was visible that would have made the arrested perp cooperating at his free will. A few years later, another case like this happened in a large city of Germany, almost an identical situation. The Police Commissioner who had made the decision to apply physical abuse to make a suspect cooperating, he got sentenced for a crime, and had to retire from his post.

I want to end this blog entry here and to take it up with another entry soon again, but not without disclosing my own decision, when I asked myself: “What would you have done if you would have been in that situation?”

I acknowledged that there are situations where the law does not provide a solution. I realized that still, the ethical values on which the law is based, continue to exist. Law can not solve the fundamental dilemma that it can not cover the entire reality, but only provide a guiding framework. If law attempts to do this, it will solve one dilemma by creating a new one. There are, as a matter of fact, areas where law leaves one without guidance. I decided that, in such a situation, the ethical values that form the foundation of that law, often enshrined in the constitutional law of a State, are still able to form a conduit. So my thinking then was that I will not order somebody else to commit an act that constitutes a crime. If I, for whatever reasons, am confronted with a situation where either action or inaction will cause the loss of life, or where the loss of a life competes with the respect of inalienable human rights, only Ethics can guide me. I will do it myself, not shying away from any consequence of this action. I would find it impossible to order somebody else to commit an act of crime, perhaps torture, on my orders. I would have to make a decision, and to take and to live with the consequences, either way.

I leave it here, I want to keep the controversial tension high. This was what I concluded during my formal senior training. This decision which I took at that time, 26 years ago, it formed my understanding for that there always always needs to be an ethical layer on which law, and personal action, is based. Without this, law is purely technical, cold, and subject to any manipulation one can think of.

As some ethical layers are so fundamental that they only exist in black and white, in “do” or “don’t”, law does not help in that situation. However, manipulation of law for any self-announced reason does not help, either. Instead, it takes away ethical legitimacy of the law.

Naturally, therefore, I end with quoting Dick Cheney, the former U.S. Vice President, in a recent interview: Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/14/dick-cheney-torture_n_6322872.html) is quoting him on Dec 14, 2014, from an interview that he gave to “Meet The Press” “I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent,” Cheney said.
About the program’s serious errors — and the abuses that CIA Director John Brennan described as “abhorrent” on Thursday — Cheney said, “I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective.”

That’s what I am talking about. Not having a problem as long as an objective is achieved. The dimensions of this sentence are broad, deep, and I fail to say more at this moment than how horrible such a statement is.

Why? Torture, systematic sexual violence as an instrument of conflict, sadism in treating adversaries and enemies, these acts continue to rip societies into pieces. They also communicate one message: “You are not worth being treated like you would have any rights. I strip everything from you, I take away your dignity. Because I can.” This is one of the most important issues of the most recent discussion about torture: As torturers have left the ground of humanity principles which we believe are universal, we have given reason to others to justify their atrocities using the same argument. We are co-responsible for the demons like Al Shabab, ISIS, or Boko Haram. Many have said this recently. I will come back to it.

But before that, I will try to finish my exploration of the relation between torture and civil criminal law.  After that, I will try to look into the Law of Armed Conflicts, and what it meant to strip detainees from the statute being “Prisoners of War”. We entered Hell on Earth, I believe.

We can go back, too, learn, and regret.

First attempt to close in on a challenging topic: Torture

There will be more entries, don’t how how many initially, yet.

Here is how I want to begin:

In 1976, I became a police detective trainee. I was eighteen years old, had just finished High School. Pondering what to do, I had pursued enrolling in University, with a main interest in biochemistry, or, believe it or not, becoming a police officer. My father had recommended to pursue a second career option, in parallel to my interest in sciences. The additional benefit: If I were to become a police officer, it would exempt me from mandatory military service, as police service is considered equivalent in my system.

Well, I had won the job, and had begun just a few months ago, I loved the Police from the first day on, abandoning my other career option as soon as I saw: “This is it”.

I had entered a mixed training that would bring me to an Undergraduate Degree in Public Administration within three years, through a combination of academic studies and practical training on the job.

Meaning, that soon after entering the Police in a large local Police Department, I was assigned to my first practical trainee work. My trainee colleagues and I were were allocated to various functions of investigative policing and patrolling, mentors would show us how they did the various jobs.

Perhaps two months into this exciting new phase of my life, a trainee colleague spoke to my friend and me. The previous night, he had been assigned to shift duty in a 24/7 investigative desk. Over night, several arrests had been made in that department, people were kept in holding cells. My colleague’s mentor took my trainee colleague into one of these holding cells. Inside, a suspect of a crime who had not revealed his identity, no ID card was found on him.

The mentoring detective asked this person: “What’s your name”. “John Doe” (or the German equivalent to it), the person replied. SLAP, BANG, the first slapping into the face of the suspect happened immediately.

The mentoring detective asked the next question: “When were you born?” – “John Doe” was the reply, SLAP BANG was the consequence.

Over the next minutes, this interrogation continued, non-compliance led to physical abuse through slapping the person straight into the face.

I do not remember whether my troubled trainee colleague who told me the story reported whether the slapping led to that the interrogation was “successful”.

What I remember are several other things:

My trainee colleague was deeply, profoundly shocked. He was not sure about what to do, whether to report this, or not, whether to stay in the training, or to quit.

I was profoundly shocked. Realizing how vulnerable the position of my trainee colleague was, I had no idea what to recommend. Recommending to report it? Well, my colleague would have had his word against that of this Old Hand, and he would have likely lost his job. Reporting it myself? How? What would be the consequence? Would I loose my job?

I was eighteen years old, had just, two months earlier, begun to enter into an amazing new world, the shiny surface of this world had just cracked.

At the end of the day, I did nothing. Felt terrible about it. Forgot it at times, but it always came back. It was one of the first defining experiences that form me today, including, that from the moment on that I had a standing in my profession, I began to develop a zero-tolerance against events like these. At no time later in my career I do remember that I would have become complacent, and/or complicit. This one was enough. I would never ever accept this again. I will write about other experiences.

In this blog, my question is less the (extremely important) managerial side of it, and the ethical one. Here, my question is: Was this torture?

Wikipedia defines torture as following: “Torture is the act of deliberately inflicting severe physical or psychological pain and possibly injury to a person (or animal), usually to one who is physically restrained or otherwise under the torturer’s control or custody and unable to defend against what is being done to him or her.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torture, accessed Dec 22 2014, 12:55 local time in NYC).

Was the slapping causing severe physical pain? Was the psychological pain severe, like for example that the suspect would not know whether the slapping would be more painful the next time it would happen?

James Mitchell, one of the two chief architects of the CIA program including waterboarding and other horrible forms of torture (I will correctly refer to everything in later blogs on this topic) is quoted In http://yahoonewsdigest-us.tumblr.com/post/105345504194/psychologist-admits-he-waterboarded-al-qaida as saying to the news service “Vice”: “It’s like any sort of thing you fear: The closer you get to it the next time, the more you struggle to get out of it and find an escape. So the moment [a detainee] was most susceptible to beginning to provide information was just before the next waterboarding session.”

The same principle, obviously. Was it torture what happened to the suspect in that holding cell 1976? In my view, a definite “Yes”.

In my German Criminal Procedural Law, we name the application of methods like these “Prohibited Methods of Interrogation”. Any action, including cheating, establishing a false belief, tricking the suspect into revealing something he or she would not have decided to do if he or she would have known the intentionally and actively falsified reality, or abuse, including through violence, falls under it. The result is that the Police Officer applying a prohibited method of interrogation can commit a crime, at least if he does what this detective mentor did.

The United Nations Convention Against Torture can be found here: http://www.hrweb.org/legal/cat.html.

Article 1 and 2 of this Convention read as follows:

Article 1

  1. For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
  2. This article is without prejudice to any international instrument or national legislation which does or may contain provisions of wider application.

Article 2

  1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
  2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
  3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

I stop here. In my next blog on this issue, I will give other examples, two that formed my ethical view on torture, and one in which I acted decisively, myself.

To be continued, hang in there!