The Guardian 11 October, 2006

Ruddock backs torture

Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has laid some more of his governmentís anti-democratic plans on the table by endorsing the use of torture in the interrogation of terrorism suspects. Ruddock stated last week that forcing suspects to stay awake for days was not torture. "I donít regard sleep deprivation as torture", said Ruddock on his return from the US early this month where he was briefed on new laws allowing for torture. No doubt Australia will follow suit.

The US Military Commissions Act, introduced by the Bush administration and passed by Congress last month, rubber stamps human rights violations, including the use of torture.

The responses to Ruddockís statement were swift and telling. One, from 86-year-old Cyril Gilbert, a former World War II prisoner of war on the Burma-Thai Railway, wiped Ruddockís assertion away saying sleep deprivation was a common tactic used by their Japanese captors. "Heís never experienced anything, has he", said Mr Gilbert.

Professor Leon Lack of Flinders University also labelled sleep deprivation torture: "If itís used in a tortuous way, then itís torture."

Australian Federal Police Com≠missioner Mick Keelty said it was illegal for Australian Federal Police to use sleep deprivation. "The AFP is committed to operating under our legislation", said Keelty. He said the AFP was "constrained by legislation and quite appropriately so." But for how long?

The US Military Commissions Act enables the US Government to set up military commissions. It allows these commissions to define what is and is not torture. Among other things, the Military Commissions Act will:

  • Strip the US courts of jurisdiction to hear or consider habeas corpus appeals challenging the lawfulness of conditions of detention of anyone held in US custody as an "enemy combatant"

  • Prohibit any person from invoking the Geneva Conventions or their protocols as a source of rights in any action in any US court

  • Permit the executive to convene military commissions to try "alien unlawful enemy combatants" as determined by the executive under a dangerously broad definition

  • Permit civilians captured far from any battlefield to be tried by military commission rather than civilian courts, contradicting international standards

  • Permit, in violation of international law, the use of evidence extracted under cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or as a result of "outrages upon personal dignity, particularly humiliating or degrading treatment", as defined under international law

  • Give the military commissions the power to hand down death sentences, in contravention of international standards. The clemency authority will be the US President

  • Fail to guarantee that trials will be conducted within a reasonable time

  • Narrow the scope of the US War Crimes Act by not expressly criminalising acts that constitute "outrages upon personal dignity, particularly humiliating and degrading treatment", banned under Article 3 common to all Geneva Conventions

  • Endorse the US administrationís "war paradigm", under which the US has selectively applied the laws of war and rejected international human rights law.

    In a statement, Amnesty International notes that accountability among higher officials for human rights violations authorised or committed by US personnel in the "war on terror" has been absent, as has reparation for such abuses. "Investigations into alleged war crimes and human rights violations have lacked independence and have not gone up the chain of command", says Amnesty. "Not a single US agent has been charged with war crimes under the War Crimes Act or torture under the extraterritorial anti-torture statute, despite compelling evidence that such offences have occurred."

    By backing the US, the Howard Government has put Australia on the path to using torture. As Greens leader Bob Brown stated: "Using ghetto blasters and extreme cold and light t o keep prisoners awake for days on end is part of a new torture technique aimed to scar the mind Ö"

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