Torture & rendition
‘Make sure you say that you were treated properly’
Gareth Peirce writes about Torture, Secrecy and the British State in the London Review of Books
Seven years ago now, in January 2002, came the first shocking images of human beings in rows in aircraft, hooded and shackled for transportation across the Atlantic, much as other human beings had been carried in slave ships four hundred years earlier. The captor's humiliation of these anonymous beings - unloaded at Guantánamo Bay, crouched in open cages in orange jumpsuits - was deliberately displayed. The watching world needed no knowledge of international humanitarian conventions to understand that what it was seeing was unlawful, since what is in fact the law precisely mirrors instinctive moral revulsion. The definitions of crimes against humanity, and war crimes, are not complex: ‘Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949', including ‘torture or inhuman treatment'; ‘wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health'; ‘wilfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial; unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement.' What the world could instantly see for itself in those images was that this was the trafficking of human beings. It was not a manifestation of the Geneva Conventions at work; it was neither deportation nor extradition: far worse, it was transportation from a world and to a world outside the reach of the law, and intended to remain so. In those two worlds, crimes against humanity were to be perpetrated, but, unlike the images of transportation, they were intended to remain for ever secret. That they have not is largely the result of chance.