Written by U Ne Oo on 2004-06-15
Many of you are aware about recent abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US administrators in notorious Abu Ghriab Prison in Baghdad. In this following news interview on Australian Television Program, the world's leading human rights lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson QC raised the effectiveness of ICRC, especially with the confidentiality must have to be kept by the organisation when examining the condition of prisoners.
The ICRC has been in operation in Burma since around 1999. Whilst I expresses -- both in private and in public -- total confidence in the integrity of the organisation, support its presence in Burma, it is time to re-examine the practice of keeping ICRC's prison reports confidential. Review of this practice is especially needed when you think about the people in detention (1,500 AAPPB estimates) are those who shouldn't be in these jails in the first place.
Again, ICRC's prison reports are transmitted back to the Burmese government, which almost certain to be ignored (no action taken). Recent death of political prisoner U Min Thu should make us rethink of the role of ICRC. I think the ICRC should change the practice of confidentiality or be better get out of Burma where it cannot offer any help to Burmese prisoners.
Regards, U Ne Oo.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: 10/5/04:ABU GHRAIB Torture-War crime/crime against humanity Newsgroups: soc.culture.asean Body
Forwarded 15 May 2004
ABU GHRAIB TORTURE, A WAR CRIME/CRIME AGANIST HUMANITY
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
TV PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT
Broadcast: 10/05/2004 Confidentiality clause leaves abuse unreported: Robertson
Reporter: Tony Jones
TONY JONES: Well, joining us now from London is UN judge and human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC.
Geoffrey Robertson, if the Red Cross knew about these terrible abuses more than a year ago, didn't they have some sort of duty of care to make this known to the public?
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: QC, UN JUDGE & HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER: The Red Cross has known over the 50 years since the Geneva Conventions about an awful lot of abuses.
The problem is that in the Geneva Conventions, which go way back to 1949, they were given exclusive rights to investigate prison conditions in war situations.
They're given that privilege and in return for investigating and writing reports to governments, they promise confidentiality.
So they've seen an awful lot and, of course, now the question is really whether that confidentiality promise should be kept in this day and age, where the safeguard of the Red Cross has proved to be not an effective safeguard for Guantanamo Bay - certainly for Iraq - because the governments - of Britain today, we learn, knew about the Red Cross findings some two months ago and didn't make them public - governments will not make adverse findings public.
And I think the time may have come where at least the leading governments of the world, by which I mean Britain and America and Australia, ought to relieve the Red Cross of its duty of confidentiality and say, "Inspect our prisons, inspect the conditions in our prisons and we will release your report, say, three months after it's been given, delivered to us."
Confidentiality no longer provides, it's quite clear, the safeguard and, of course, thinking back to the attitudes of 1949, people thought, "Well, governments won't allow the Red Cross into prisons if they're not promised this confidentiality."
I think that we should advance our thinking and, at least in future, accept that Red Cross reports should be made public like the one that has been made public today.
TONY JONES: They made public elements of it on Saturday but only after, it appeared, that the whole thing had been leaked.
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON QC: It was leaked to the Wall Street Journal and it's gone up finally on the website today.
The other question, of course, is whether the Australian Government received the report, which it certainly should have because it is a coalition partner and bound by rules of engagement and arguably an occupying power.
Australia should insist on receiving Red Cross reports in future in relation to Iraq prisons.
TONY JONES: Geoffrey Robertson, what are you saying here?
If the Australian Government did receive that report, you'd be asking questions about what they did about it?
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: QC: I think the same questions that are being asked in Britain today of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence, namely, "When did you receive the Red Cross report?" - and Britain received it in February - and, "What did you do about it?"
And I think that's a real question to be asking governments that receive these secret reports and we expect them to take immediate action.
Maybe they have but I think they have to show that they did receive the report and they did act upon it.
But for the future, because what we're seeing here is not just the kind of abuse that happens in most prisons where those in power over others humiliate them.
What it seems to have been happening is that a systemic abuse that was justified on the basis of softening up, something that was taught as an interrogation technique - ritual humiliation, use of photographs to show suspects to try and get information out of them.
Although we know that this kind of pressure tends to make suspects lie, give interrogators whatever they want.
This, if it is a systematic torture technique used as a softening-up process for interrogation, it becomes a very serious matter because someone must have taught it, someone in authority must have taught it, and one would expect that those who were responsible for teaching the technique will be, in the fullness of time, put on trial.
I think for the future we must ask the question, "Are the confidentiality requirements of the old Geneva accords satisfactory" when it's, as it were, our governments that are doing the detaining and ought to be accountable to a very fine body, like the Red Cross because there is no question that the Red Cross does do its inspections very carefully and very well.
But whether they ought to be relieved of the duty of confidentiality, which is really a Cold War duty and doesn't really resound today when it's not an adequate safeguard for prisoners of the Americans.
TONY JONES: Let me move on to talk about the actual report, which, as you say, is now on the web site.
It does talk about there being systematic torture and this report was written more than a year ago, evidently.
If there was systematic torture of the type that you outlined there, would you regard that as a war crime?
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: QC: Certainly, it is a war crime.
It's a crime against humanity, it's a crime against international law.
And what is so important is to decide whether this was taught at a school, rather like the hooding and interrogation techniques that were taught to the British Army and used in interrogating IRA suspects in the early '70s, the torture techniques that were used in South America that were taught by some parts of the American Army.
We've got to look at those who are responsible for deciding that this, that these torture techniques are acceptable and not make scapegoats, of course, of those who have been carrying them out.
Of course, they are guilty but at the same time, one must give them a fair trial and must look to those who authorised and devised.
The authors of the techniques must be investigated.
TONY JONES: Alright, you talk about trials and investigations.
The United States, of course, refused to sign up to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Does that preclude the ICC nonetheless from giving indictments to US military officers, who they believe might be responsible or indeed, preclude them from investigating these matters?
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON: QC: Well, the US Army has a pretty good record of investigating and prosecuting where these cases like this are concerned.
I have no doubt that the military tribunals will be in full swing in the next few months and there will be an accountability but it does underline, I think, the importance of bringing America on board to the International Criminal Court because the mere fact that they are on our side doesn't mean that there aren't going to be abuses and that there may well be an area where the International Criminal Court can be involved.
TONY JONES: If that is the case, it can't make indictments against Americans, I take it.
Can it make indictments against British soldiers and British officers who may have been involved in similar things?
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON QC: Only if Britain fails to take action itself.
The International Criminal Court is a court of last resort.
It's a fallback, where the power to whom the soldiers who have misbehaved belong is incapable or simply refuses to take action.
I have little doubt, from what Mr Blair said today, that there will be a number of prosecutions of British soldiers who are suspected of maltreating prisoners.
It's only if Britain turns a blind eye or refuses to act where there is evidence that the International Criminal Court can come in and hopefully would come in and prosecute.
But I don't think that is going to be likely in this case.
TONY JONES: What would happen, though, in the case where only the perpetrators were prosecuted?
In the US, for example, if it was believed internationally that the responsibility went much further up the chain of command, could there be indictments issued, in case people like generals who might have ordered such things went to other countries?
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON QC: I think if there became credible evidence that a senior political or military figure had devised or had authorised the systematic torture of prisoners, then that individual could be prosecuted under international law because that would be a crime under international law, and if they belonged to a country that had signed up to the International Criminal Court, then, yes, they could be prosecuted if the evidence was strong enough.
I think it highly unlikely, almost incredible, that if the evidence was sufficiently powerful against a senior figure in the military of Britain - of Australia, for that matter - that the authorities wouldn't court-martial them.
But if they didn't, then certainly, that is what the ICC is there for - to prosecute those against whom there is very strong evidence of committing crimes against humanity, whose own governments or own prosecution systems don't take action.
TONY JONES: Let me ask you a slightly broader question, if I can.
What are the legal boundaries for interrogating prisoners suspected of terrorism and what forms of duress can they legally be put under in order to make them give evidence, particularly if, as many of these governments are saying, "These are very pressing matters, we're trying to stop another act of terrorism, perhaps like September 11?"
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON QC: Well, of course and it is always shown that the sooner you bring a suspect in for interrogation, the sooner you are able to get the answers and the more likely that the suspect will talk.
In theory, of course, suspects are only required to give - as we remember from the old Colditz films, some of us - name, rank and number.
That is the minimum requirement under the Geneva Convention.
But, in fact, the interrogators' opportunities are very much wider.
They can be offered all sorts of inducements to talk, so long as pressure, physical pressure, is not placed upon them.
And not just physical pressure - threats to their family and so forth, they are all excluded as torture.
And many threats, of course - many interrogators think long and hard and design ways of torture without leaving a mark.
Some years ago, the Singapore police used to put suspects up in front of freezing cold air-conditioners for an hour in the hope that they would talk without leaving a mark.
That is out of bounds.
The infliction of pain of any kind, whether physical or mental, is out of bounds.
But within that - notwithstanding that cut-off point - interrogators, of course, tend to get much further with suspects whom they're prepared to deal decently with.
And of course, they have a range of possibilities, of options, of offering that you won't be prosecuted if you give the information and so forth.
TONY JONES: Very briefly, because we are nearly out of time I'm sorry to say, we are now learning that the techniques, many of them used at Abu Ghraib, appear to have been 'pioneered', if you like, at Guantanamo Bay and other secret prisons maintained by the United States over a period of time.
How important is it to find out what is going on in those places?
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON QC: Well, it's been important for a long time.
We talk of 'pioneering'.
I'm not sure they have been pioneered at Guantanamo Bay.
If you go back to Oman, to the British Army in Aden, that was where the torture techniques of spread-eagling, hooding, high-pitched noise that were exposed when Irish prisoners were put into internment in 1970, that was where they were started.
Some of the torture techniques used by Pinochet's forces were later traced to a particular American base.
There is a long history of trying to work out ways in which, which will make the will crumble.
And it may well be that these particular techniques, which are to some extent sadistic but are also sexual, they are also aimed to demean the suspect in a way that may be particularly - or thought to be - particularly humiliating and degrading.
By photographing them in sexual positions with women pointing at their genitals and so on and then later showing them that photograph in the course of an interrogation, there may have been thought to be some mileage in doing that.
And that's what I mean by whether these were simply the isolated acts of sadism which one finds, sadly, in prisons all over the world.
Or whether they were actually devised or taught, whether someone sat down and thought, "How are we going to torture people of this racial background, of this cultural background?"
If that has been the case, then certainly that is a serious crime and needs to be fully investigated.
TONY JONES: Geoffrey Robertson, we do thank you for taking the time to come to talk to us again tonight on Lateline.
We'll have to leave it there.
GEOFFREY ROBERTSON QC: Not at all.