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Torture’s Dirty Secret: It Works
I recently caught a glimpse of the effects of torture in action at an event honoring Maher Arar. The Syrian-born Canadian is the world’s most famous victim of “rendition,” the process by which US officials outsource torture to foreign countries. Arar was switching planes in New York when US interrogators detained him and “rendered” him to Syria, where he was held for ten months in a cell slightly larger than a grave and taken out periodically for beatings.
Arar was being honored for his courage by the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, a mainstream advocacy organization. The audience gave him a heartfelt standing ovation, but there was fear mixed in with the celebration. Many of the prominent community leaders kept their distance from Arar, responding to him only tentatively. Some speakers were unable even to mention the honored guest by name, as if he had something they could catch. And perhaps they were right: The tenuous “evidence”–later discredited–that landed Arar in a rat-infested cell was guilt by association. And if that could happen to Arar, a successful software engineer and family man, who is safe?
In a rare public speech, Arar addressed this fear directly. He told the audience that an independent commissioner has been trying to gather evidence of law-enforcement officials breaking the rules when investigating Muslim Canadians. The commissioner has heard dozens of stories of threats, harassment and inappropriate home visits. But, Arar said, “not a single person made a public complaint. Fear prevented them from doing so.” Fear of being the next Maher Arar.
The fear is even thicker among Muslims in the United States, where the Patriot Act gives police the power to seize the records of any mosque, school, library or community group on mere suspicion of terrorist links. When this intense surveillance is paired with the ever-present threat of torture, the message is clear: You are being watched, your neighbor may be a spy, the government can find out anything about you. If you misstep, you could disappear onto a plane bound for Syria, or into “the deep dark hole that is Guantánamo Bay,” to borrow a phrase from Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
But this fear has to be finely calibrated. The people being intimidated need to know enough to be afraid but not so much that they demand justice. This helps explain why the Defense Department will release certain kinds of seemingly incriminating information about Guantánamo–pictures of men in cages, for instance–at the same time that it acts to suppress photographs on a par with what escaped from Abu Ghraib. And it might also explain why the Pentagon approved the new book by a former military translator, including the passages about prisoners being sexually humiliated, but prevented him from writing about the widespread use of attack dogs. This strategic leaking of information, combined with official denials, induces a state of mind that Argentines describe as “knowing/not knowing,” a vestige of their “dirty war.”
“Obviously, intelligence agents have an incentive to hide the use of unlawful methods,” says the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer. “On the other hand, when they use rendition and torture as a threat, it’s undeniable that they benefit, in some sense, from the fact that people know that intelligence agents are willing to act unlawfully. They benefit from the fact that people understand the threat and believe it to be credible.”
And the threats have been received. In an affidavit filed with an ACLU court challenge to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, Nazih Hassan, president of the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor, Michigan, describes this new climate. Membership and attendance are down, donations are way down, board members have resigned–Hassan says his members fear doing anything that could get their names on lists. One member testified anonymously that he has “stopped speaking out on political and social issues” because he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself.
This is torture’s true purpose: to terrorize–not only the people in Guantánamo’s cages and Syria’s isolation cells but also, and more important, the broader community that hears about these abuses. Torture is a machine designed to break the will to resist–the individual prisoner’s will and the collective will.
This is not a controversial claim. In 2001 the US NGO Physicians for Human Rights published a manual on treating torture survivors that noted: “perpetrators often attempt to justify their acts of torture and ill treatment by the need to gather information. Such conceptualizations obscure the purpose of torture….The aim of torture is to dehumanize the victim, break his/her will, and at the same time, set horrific examples for those who come in contact with the victim. In this way, torture can break or damage the will and coherence of entire communities.”
Yet despite this body of knowledge, torture continues to be debated in the United States as if it were merely a morally questionable way to extract information, not an instrument of state terror. But there’s a problem: No one claims that torture is an effective interrogation tool–least of all the people who practice it. Torture “doesn’t work. There are better ways to deal with captives,” CIA director Porter Goss told the Senate Intelligence Committee on February 16. And a recently declassified memo written by an FBI official in Guantánamo states that extreme coercion produced “nothing more than what FBI got using simple investigative techniques.” The Army’s own interrogation field manual states that force “can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”
And yet the abuses keep on coming–Uzbekistan as the new hot spot for renditions; the “El Salvador model” imported to Iraq. And the only sensible explanation for torture’s persistent popularity comes from a most unlikely source. Lynndie England, the fall girl for Abu Ghraib, was asked during her botched trial why she and her colleagues had forced naked prisoners into a human pyramid. “As a way to control them,” she replied.
Exactly. As an interrogation tool, torture is a bust. But when it comes to social control, nothing works quite like torture.
Men risk their lives in wars so women can enjoy societies where they can pursue feminist goals, such as punishing men for sexist language.
A final selfie and a harrowing goodbye: The moving diary entries of the daughters who threw a hen party to pay for their mother to take her own life at a suicide clinic
Looking back on it now, they can understand the fuss. Who, after all, would plan a such a peerlessly inappropriate fundraiser? A ‘ladies’ night’ in Llanelli complete with drag queen and near naked waiters in order to send their own mother to Dignitas, the Swiss euthanasia clinic?
The public was bemused, the police were called and the event duly cancelled.
‘We felt quite stupid,’ admits Tara O’Reilly, who organised the party with her sister Rose Baker. ‘We were told we were breaking the law – encouraging suicide. But we weren’t thinking about any of that. We were just desperate.’ And with good reason. Their mother Jackie Baker, diagnosed with motor neurone disease, was declining fast. Months of agonising pain and uncertainty lay before them. Today, though, that terror has completely gone. For all the kerfuffle of the failed party and despite the months of misery that followed, the sisters feel only relief.
Three weeks ago, in a faceless trading estate on the outskirts of Zurich, their 59-year-old mother clicked a button with her toe and passed away, killed by a powerful cocktail of barbiturates, as she had wished.
And at last Rose and Tara are free to tell a story that will touch everyone who reads it – about the fear of the diagnosis, the turmoil of hearing their mother ask for Dignitas, and about their passionate belief in new laws to support assisted dying.
Jackie, who had lived close to her daughters in Morriston, a former tinplate and copper town near Swansea, had been a keen amateur photographer and musician. All that changed with the diagnosis back in February. Jackie’s own mother had died of the condition, so the three of them knew exactly what to expect.
A week later, Tara, 40, caught Jackie looking up ways to commit suicide on the internet. ‘I told her she was being ridiculous,’ Tara says. ‘Then she said she wanted to go to Dignitas. I had no idea what she was talking about.
‘I just thought, here we go, it’s one of Mum’s hippy trippy things. She said it would cost £8,000. She didn’t have a bean to her name. We didn’t realise it was even an option, like a dog being taken to be put down, really.’
Her sister Rose, 29, who works in a call centre, continues: ‘I hoped it was just a phase. It was so stressful that I had to stop working. How could I answer people’s questions about faults with their televisions when Mum was talking about killing herself?’
To raise the money, Tara, a hairdresser, decided on the £15-per-head ladies’ night, which soon came to the attention of the media – and the police. Two officers visited Tara at her salon after receiving a complaint from Care Not Killing, a group which opposes euthanasia and assisted dying.
They warned her that if the party went ahead, Tara and her guests could be prosecuted.
The event was cancelled – yet the publicity was what saved the family. Donations from total strangers poured in. One woman gave £2,000. Two Swiss bankers got in touch and offered to let the family stay at their house in Switzerland. Dignitas informed Tara that they offered a reduced rate for those in financial difficulty.
Earlier this month, Tara and Rose accompanied their mother on the gruelling 18-hour trip to Zurich and watched as she administered the fatal dose of drugs.
In September, Parliament rejected plans to enshrine the right to die in law in England and Wales, with 118 MPs voting in favour and 330 against.
Despite this, Tara and Rose are in no doubt when it comes to their own beliefs. ‘Our mother should have had an injection in her own home two months ago,’ says Tara.
‘But instead she had to travel for 18 hours in complete agony, sitting in her own urine. There’s a need for assisted dying and for the law to change. Our mum is proof of that.’
More than 160 Britons have taken their own lives at Dignitas in the past six years.
She could have had another year in pain,’ Tara continues. ‘It would have been selfish for us to keep her here. ‘When we actually got to Switzerland, there was a calmness. We knew we were doing the right thing.’
Not that it was in any way easy. Indeed, as this searingly honest and at times disturbing diary of their mother’s final journey makes clear, there can be no doubt at all of the desperation and the sheer humanity that drove them into the arms of Dignitas.
Getting the green light October 25, 2015
Tara: The email giving us a provisional green light came from Dignitas today. I was at the salon and then had to cut some poor woman’s hair.
I did think, ‘Thank God’, but there was a crushing feeling too. This is it. It’s all been a rush and now we’re going in ten days. Mum’s eyes lit up when I told her. She said she was over the moon. She can’t wait to go. I feel relief. She’s so ill and in so much pain. Every movement is like a knife going through her.
But it’s heartbreaking, too. I was just thinking about Christmas and how we’ll all be together as usual. But then I had the most gut-wrenching feeling because Mum won’t be here, will she? We’ll never have another Christmas with her.
Rose: Mum’s GP said she was too ill to fly. Part of me desperately wants Mum to change her mind but I know she never will. I said she could get the train but that it would be a long and painful journey. She doesn’t care. She just wants to go.
The last journey November 2
Tara: I’ve been playing Mum’s last moments over in my mind. I keep having visions of what her last words will be. I want them to be heartfelt but she has become so detached from us lately. I’ve been knocking myself out every night with a bottle of wine. I’ve been absolutely dreading today but now it’s here I feel strangely relieved and calm.
This morning Rose and I woke up at 3.30am to start the journey to Switzerland. When we got to Mum’s nursing home she was beaming, ready to go. There were no staff around. They’ve been warned not to get involved. We got a taxi to London at 4.30am. It was tough seeing her in the back in this huge wheelchair.
The driver was useless. He didn’t know the way and we missed the Eurostar. When we got to the station Mum was in such pain and kept crying out. One of the Eurostar managers told me he didn’t think she could travel. I’ve never felt so desperate until that moment. ‘We have to get on that train. We have to get to Switzerland,’ I told him. He knew what I meant. It was pretty clear by our distraught faces that we didn’t just want to do away with our mother.
He went to speak to someone higher up, came back and put us all on to the next train in first class. ‘I didn’t realise, good luck to you all and God bless,’ he said.
Rose: In Paris we missed the next train but managed to get on to a later one. We got to Zurich at about 11pm, 18 hours after we had set off.
The final countdown November 3
Tara: We went to see our Dignitas-assigned doctor at 8.30am in a Zurich clinic. This was not the place where you go to die. It looked more like a Botox clinic.
Everyone who goes to Dignitas must have two appointments, each on a different day. There was no ramp and the lift wasn’t fit for Mum’s wheelchair, so she was seen in a little corridor. The doctor was German and very matter-of-fact.
‘You want to die, Jackie?’ she asked Mum. She asked a few times. Mum just said, ‘Yes’ with no emotion.
Tonight is the happiest I’ve seen her since her diagnosis. She had Bob Marley on and was bobbing her head to the beat. She had her Complan food and her morphine. We had wine and pizza. She told me not to drink any more and to go to bed. She seemed scared that we wouldn’t get it right. She’s vulnerable and has put all of her trust in us.
Rose: It’s been a sad day, but we’ve tried to make the most of it. There have been lots of genuine I love yous and thank yous.
Mum’s last day November 4
Tara: It’s a lovely sunny day. Mum was going to wear her purple and yellow tie-dye dress, but decided on her more comfortable pyjamas because she’s ‘going to sleep’.
We got to Dignitas at about 9.30am, after seeing the same German doctor who again asked if she wanted to die. Now the taxi took us to an industrial estate. There were a few other units and a burger place next door.
They didn’t broadcast themselves. There was no sign: ‘Here’s Dignitas, drop-in only.’ We were struck by how down at heel it all looked. We were met by two of the clinic’s workers. The man must have been close to 80, he had a pierced ear and a pipe.
We walked straight into the room. It was like walking into somebody’s house. There was a hospital bed, an antique-looking dining table and chairs, an old stained rug, an old sofa and a painting that your nan might have had. There was a little window that looked out to the garden. There was no equipment. They brought that in afterwards.
Rose: I was trying desperately not to cry. But when we first got into the room, Mum said: ‘Thanks for getting me here.’ That started us both off. She said: ‘Don’t cry.’ There was no emotion to it.
We helped her into the bed with a hoist. They held a form up to her so she could sign it using a marker pen in her mouth. She gagged a bit.
Tara: I didn’t like watching that. It felt so final. It didn’t seem professional. The Dignitas lady was very happy. She offered us coffee before going over to Mum and taking her hand. ‘Jackie, do you want to die today?’ she said in a sing-song voice. Mum just said: ‘Yes.’ The woman added: ‘You’ll be out of your misery soon and in a better place.’ She told us Mum would go into a deep sleep and then a coma before her brain and all of her organs failed. I thought, bloody hell. It was so matter-of-fact.
Mum had to use her foot to push the button to release the poison. Nothing seemed modern or up to date. There was a big syringe that went into a little machine which was attached to a tube in Mum’s stomach.
Rose: We took a last selfie and then Mum was given an anti-sickness solution. It took 20 minutes to take effect. You couldn’t say goodbye properly. We just sat there not knowing what to do.
Tara: After 20 minutes they asked Mum if she wanted to say anything, but she didn’t even say goodbye. We said we loved her and were going to miss her. It wasn’t Mum at that point. She’d already gone. They told us not to touch any of the machines because we could get into trouble. They filmed the next bit. They said: ‘Jackie, when you’re ready, push the button.’ Mum did it straight away.
Rose: It didn’t take long, minutes really. She just stared through us and then went into a deep sleep and stopped breathing. Then she did a little snore, which made us laugh and cry at the same time. It was so Mum. We watched the blood drain from her face. We watched her take her last breath. It was peaceful really. We both kissed Mum goodbye for the last time and walked out into the winter sunshine. It was so hard to leave her there.
We went to a hotel and got drunk. I had flashes of her face at the end for the rest of the day. Neither of us had seen a dead body before.
The Aftermath November 5
Tara: We both felt absolutely lost. We’ve been pushing Mum’s empty wheelchair around like lost souls with people staring. It’s horrible, heartbreaking.
Mum wanted to be cremated. Dignitas have organised all of that. We flew back to Britain in silence.
There’s every chance that one of us or even both of us could get motor neurone disease. It’s in the family.
Mum was told there was a five per cent chance of her getting it. After seeing what it does, it is terrifying. I think about it every day. I’ve got a lump in my left hand and my first thought was it’s MND. I’m not sure if I could go to Dignitas or ask anyone to come and watch me die.
Rose: Why is agony acceptable but ending your life and your suffering is not? It was Mum’s choice, not ours. It has been a nice ending for her, in a way. Yes, it’s terribly sad and we’re both devastated, but we also feel a sense of relief that she got her happy ending.
Revealed: Gory pictures of blisters suffered by Kurdish fighters are the first evidence that ISIS jihadis are now deploying MUSTARD GAS in Iraq
They are the terrible scenes that the world had hoped it would never see again after the horrors of the First World War.
But now The Mail on Sunday has uncovered the first shocking evidence that Islamic State is using mustard gas on the front line in Iraq.
Troops fighting against the terror group have been left with appalling injuries – including agonising blisters on their skin and badly damaged lungs – in a frightening echo of warfare in the trenches on the Western Front.
Without any regard for the international ban on the chemical weapon, IS has used the lethal gas repeatedly against Kurdish forces who are battling to drive out the jihadis.
The terror group – which has killed hundreds of victims in repeated attacks in France and against other targets in the West – is fighting a last-ditch battle to hold on to the dwindling area it controls in Iraq and Syria.
Nearly 100 Kurdish soldiers have been injured in mustard gas attacks, which are now taking place as often as twice a week, according to doctors speaking publicly for the first time.
The Mail on Sunday has interviewed victims of the weapons, which are banned by the United Nations.
They described poisonous yellow clouds of mustard gas burning their skin and damaging their lungs.
Their injuries have been verified as the effect of mustard gas, according to experts from the US and Italy.
They are convinced the jihadis are now producing sophisticated chemical weapons on an industrial scale in Iraq and fear IS will use them in a desperate bid to defend its stronghold city of Mosul in northern Iraq, which is now surrounded by UK-backed Iraqi and Kurdish troops.
Proof of IS’s use of mustard gas comes just days after reports that President Assad’s regime in Syria has been using chlorine gas against civilians.
One Kurdish soldier spoke of how six Islamic State rockets containing mustard gas landed in the village of Sultan Abdullah in Gwer province, Iraq, while he was on patrol.
Father of six Mirmaj Hassan, 39, breathed in the noxious fumes, which also seeped inside his military uniform, causing large blisters on his skin.
The soldier, who was one of 13 Peshmerga victims of chemical weapons on August 12 last year, said: ‘It was 6pm and the sun was going down. We’d been on the front line all day and everyone was exhausted.
‘Then we heard the whistle of incoming rockets and took cover. I was only about 30ft from where the rocket landed on the roof of a house. It gave off a smell like onions.
‘I didn’t have a gas mask so I covered my mouth with my hand.
‘But I soon felt pain in my throat and my chest tightening. I collapsed on to the ground, sweating and completely out of breath.
‘I tried to shout for help but could only gasp. Then I began to feel this strange burning sensation around my stomach and back.’
Hassan told The Mail on Sunday how he undid his belt and pulled up his green shirt to inspect the wounds. He said: ‘My skin was going moist and turning to liquid, like I was holding a match to my abdomen. I touched it and it was very painful.
‘Eventually some other Peshmerga saw me. They ran to where I had collapsed, picked me up and carried me into a hut.
My skin was turning to liquid
‘There was no medicine to give us. All the officers did was throw water over us. But the burning sensation continued and blisters appeared. I could hardly breathe. Even today I have a constant cough and feel like I’m choking.
‘I spent four days in hospital before going back to the front line, because even the wounded have to fight Islamic State – we must get rid of them. We would be thankful for more protection – we need more gas masks and hoods. I still don’t have either.’
To prove that the Peshmerga were victims of chemical weapons, doctors took blood and urine samples from injured troops.
The laboratory tests found traces of the chemical compound sulfur mustard (mustard gas) – a chemical agent first produced by the German Army in 1916 and used against British Tommies in the trenches.
The results were verified by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The use of any mustard agents on the battlefield is banned under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.
The head of the OPCW also said recently that there are ‘extremely worrying signs’ that Islamic State is making its own chemical weapons.
The CIA has also publicly confirmed that it believes IS has the ability to produce mustard gas and chlorine.
The tests were ordered by the Peshmerga’s head of medical affairs, Dr Muhsin Zangana, who said: ‘There can no longer be any doubt that Islamic State is using chemical weapons against us, weapons which are getting bigger every week and can be fired from a longer range so they are more difficult to detect.
'I personally have treated victims from more than 50 attacks and the symptoms are consistent – the burns, ulcers inside the body, damage to the lungs, dry eyes and rashes.
‘We are fortunate that no soldiers have died yet but we have one victim from Gwer last year who is getting worse. He could die if he is not flown overseas for treatment. We don’t have what he needs.’
Dr Jodal Ahmed. a civilian doctor from Erbil in Iraq, has also treated chemical weapons victims, even though he has received no specific training. Dr Ahmed also said there was a shortage of medicines for the troops affected by the gas.
He said: ‘They’re given Salbutamol tablets [a drug also used to treat asthma] to help them breathe and eye drops. It’s not enough. And I am seeing more and more cases like this. The Peshmerga deserve better treatment.’
Brigadier General Hajar Ismail, the Peshmerga’s director of public relations, could not hide his frustration as he told The Mail on Sunday that of the 150,000 Kurdish troops fighting IS, only one in ten has gas masks and hoods. This shortage of protective equipment is now being exploited by the jihadis.
He said: ‘Germany and the United States have given us 15,000 masks but we need 50,000, as the jihadis will use chemical weapons when we advance on Mosul. Last year their chemical weapons were 60mm short range shells which didn’t include much gas.
'Now they’re using 1m-long Grad rockets, with a lot more of the harmful substances in the nose of the missile.
‘Most of the chemical weapons attacks on us happen near Mosul. This points to the gas bombs being produced there. Intelligence reports also say the chemistry department at Mosul University is being used to make chemical weapons.
'They are concocting a new generation of explosive devices and I believe Daesh [IS] will soon be able to inflict mass casualties. We will be unprepared and ill-equipped.’
Even Kurdish officers must go without gas masks on the front line.
One, Major Farhad Merozi, explained that when a rocket containing mustard gas exploded just yards from him on May 14 this year in Gwer, all he could do was wrap a wet towel around his head.
Within seconds he was vomiting and he temporarily lost his sight. He then fell unconscious.
Eventually he was taken to hospital and given oxygen.
He said: ‘It was a very frightening experience, I couldn’t understand what was happening to my body.
‘We’d been firing rocket-propelled grenades at Daesh when suddenly they responded with rocket fire.
'Seventeen of us were injured, all with burning skin and gasping for breath. It was horrible. I will never forget it.
‘Three months later I have terrible chest pains and haven’t gone back to the front line.’
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