As part of our brief, Religion News Blog from time to time highlights news items that illustrate ethics issues. After all, religion and ethics — human rights concerns included — go hand-in-hand.
VIENNA, Austria: Legal experts from 95 countries have devised a way of measuring how well leaders, officials and judges are meeting the basic principles of law and human rights.
The “Rule of Law Index” — unveiled Thursday at the World Justice Forum in Vienna — is aimed at helping the United States and others countries pursue more fair policies in the pursuit of terrorists, participants said.
“The so-called war on terror has brought with it subtle changes. We talk about ‘coercive interrogation’ instead of what it really is: torture,” former Irish President Mary Robinson said in a speech to the forum.
The architects of the index say it is meant to help ensure that everyone — from farmers and fishermen to parliamentarians and prime ministers — benefits from the rule of law.
“We are not in the blame and shame business,” said William H. Neukom, president of the American Bar Association, a founding member of the World Justice Project that began building the index 18 months ago and expects it will offer profiles on 100 nations within three more years.
This appears to be a positive developement. Recent — and not so recent — history has clearly demonstrated that while America has long attempted to present itself as the final arbiter of human rights, the U.S. itself is among the world’s primary human rights violators.
That lengthy record has culmulated in a self-declared ‘Evangelical Christian’ president consistently lying about anything from Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction to America’s use of torture (see news item below this one).
One can not have the fox guard the hen house, so the multinational, multidisciplinary The World Justice Project is a welcome initiative.
The United States, though widely held up as a model of democracy and civil rights, has been severely criticized for abuses at its detention center for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and its practice of “extraordinary rendition” — whereby the CIA transfers suspects to other countries for interrogation and, some allege, torture.
“The U.S. has a proud history,” Neukom said. “But there have been failures in abiding by the rule of law.”
The Rule of Law Index does not rank countries on a scale. Instead, it offers comprehensive snapshots of how governments and court systems are performing, based on interviews with local experts and with 1,000 randomly selected citizens in any given nation.
The prototype index was developed with help from justice experts from Yale University and Stanford University, as well as judges and lawyers in The Hague, Netherlands — home to the World Court, the International Criminal Court and the U.N. war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia.
“No society, however advanced in other respects, has ever attained — let alone sustained — a perfect realization of the rule of law,” the World Justice Project said in a 77-page report outlining the index.
The World Justice Project hopes the results will help in constructively engaging rogue or lagging nations “in a relentless and long-term way,” Neukom said. “We think it’s time for action rather than words.”
Interestingly, a day earlier the International Herald Tribune carried this story:
WASHINGTON: The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint” and “exposure.”
What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 air force study of Chinese techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.
The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Chinese interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Some methods were used against a small number of prisoners at Guantánamo before 2005, when Congress banned the use of coercion by the military.
The CIA is still authorized by President George W. Bush to use a number of secret “alternative” interrogation methods.
The 1957 article from which the chart was copied was entitled “Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions From the Air Force Prisoners of War” and written by Alfred Biderman, a sociologist then working for the air force, who died in 2003.
Biderman had interviewed American prisoners returning from North Korea, some of whom had been filmed by their Chinese interrogators confessing to germ warfare and other atrocities.
Those orchestrated confessions led to allegations that the American prisoners had been “brainwashed,” and prompted the military to revamp its training to give some military personnel a taste of the enemies’ harsh methods to inoculate them against quick capitulation if captured.
In 2002, the training program, known as SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, became a source of interrogation methods both for the CIA and the military. In what critics describe as a remarkable case of historical amnesia, officials who drew on the SERE program appear to have been unaware that it had been created as a result of concern about false confessions by American prisoners.
Biderman’s 1957 article described “one form of torture” used by the Chinese as forcing American prisoners to stand “for exceedingly long periods,” sometimes in conditions of “extreme cold.” Such passive methods, he wrote, were more common than outright physical violence. Prolonged standing and exposure to cold have have been used by American military and CIA interrogators against terrorist suspects.
The chart also listed other techniques used by the Chinese, including “semi-starvation,” “exploitation of wounds” and “filthy, infested surroundings,” and with their effects: “makes victim dependent on interrogator,” “weakens mental and physical ability to resist” and “reduces prisoner to ‘animal level’ concerns.”
The only change made in the chart presented at Guantánamo was to drop its original title: “Communist Coercive Methods for Eliciting Individual Compliance.”
Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, a psychiatrist who also studied the returning prisoners of war and wrote an accompanying article in the same 1957 issue of The Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, said in an interview that he was disturbed to learn that the Chinese methods had been recycled and taught at Guantánamo.
“It saddens me,” said Lifton, who wrote a 1961 book on what the Chinese called “thought reform” and became known in popular American parlance as brainwashing. He called the use of the Chinese techniques by American interrogators at Guantánamo a “180-degree turn.”
Dr. Lifton’s work has been used by many cult experts and counselors in trying to explain how cults work. We invite you to read Chapter 22 of his book Robert Jay Lifton’s book,Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of ‘Brainwashing’ in China.
“The Environment Creates the Atrocity” — Comparing Abu Ghraib to My Lai in Vietnam, psychologist Robert Jay Lifton explains how ordinary Americans can behave so horribly
Doctors and Torture — There is increasing evidence that U.S. doctors, nurses, and medics have been complicit in torture and other illegal procedures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. By Robert Jay Lifton.
Among Robert Jay Lifton’s books is Superpower Syndrome: America’s Apocalyptic Confrontation With the World