Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Relax, We're Just Disregaring Human Rights...

Source: CTV News: Canada 'does not condone torture,' Toews Says
Source: CBC News: CSIS May Use Intelligence Derived from Torture, Toews Says
Source: CBC News: Cash Compensation will be Sought, SFL says

Two things to talk about today, one Federal and one Provincial.

Let's discuss the federal issue first given the gravity of the situation that it is linked to. Despite saying, sometime around 2008 - 2009, that information derived under torture would not be used within Canada; the Conservative government has been revealed to have changed their mind on this issue at some point in 2010.

Up until then, CSIS was under orders to disregard any information that could be considered 'tainted' by the use of torture. Now, in the sake of 'clarifying' the directive, CSIS has been told to ignore this order if it could negatively impact public safety.

So, implicitly, the government is condoning torture.

Now, I hear some of you screaming about me being a hardcore left-wing nut job for making such a claim. But, allow me to try and explain how we arrived at that conclusion.

I believe it was Martin Luther King Jr, and I paraphrase here, that said someone who stands by and does nothing is just as guilty as those committing the act. Furthermore, there is the old idea that evil is when good men do nothing. But by issuing such an order, the Conservatives have now broken both of these principles and have non-directly endorsed the use of torture.

Now, we're not going to get into the argument of what constitutes torture. That's like trying to define what constitutes terrorism, it's a long subject that has many definitions and we'll never reach a solid agreement on it. Rather, we're going to look at whether or not torture should be used at all.

Let's look at the problems that we know exist with torture, and to highlight let's use some honest examples.

Reaching back into our bag of historical goodies, we come upon the Spanish Inquisition. For those of you who need a refresher, the Inquisition was a policy undertaken by the Catholic Church and the Spanish Crown in order to 'find false Catholics', namely Jews.

The Inquisition was tasked with watching converts to Christianity and observing them to ensure that they had indeed converted from their previous faith. And when someone was accused, or suspected, the Inquisition was given mostly free reign to get the blasphemer to confess.

Unlike the Monty Python sketch, the Inquisition did not use comfy chairs and fluffy pillows to torture answers out of their victims. Rather, more horrendous tools were used to 'induce' a confession from the suspect. Thumb screws, hot oils, and most famously the rack were used to crack suspects and get them to confess to their crimes.

More often then not, these horrendous practices drove suspects to confess...even if they were innocent. Let's look at another historical scenario: The case of Anne Boleyn.

As most of us are aware, Anne was the second wife of Henry VIII. After numerous attempts to sire a son with his second wife, Henry eventually grew tired of her (as we would see with other spouses) and others plotted to remove Anne from the King's favour. (This is debatable historically, but we do know Lord Chancellor Thomas Cromwell had something to do with Anne's eventually execution.)

Back to the point, Anne's brother George was among those arrested and 'induced' to confess that Anne was guilty of High Treason by breaking her marriage vows to the King (through adultery and incest with George and others.)

It is noted that many of the lower born 'witnesses' against Anne were likely tortured to convince them to admit to having an affair with Anne...While aristocrats, who couldn't be tortured under English law, were just induced through other means.

What does this show?

Historically, that torture is unreliable due to the nature of saying what the person inflicting pain wants to hear. Think about it: If your fingernails were being ripped out one by one...Or simulated drowning was used on you...Or you were tied to a table and had your limbs slowly stretched to the point of dislocation...Or, as we saw in the Maher Arar case, beaten with heavy electrical cables; you would say anything to get those conditions to stop.

Humans are adverse to horrible conditions, and there are very few of us who would stand up against such conditions and continue to insist that we don't know anything. Rather, many of us would happily confess to something we haven't done and MORE to get those conditions to stop.

And that's the problem with torture: When you torture, you induce the person you are torture to tell you what you want to hear. It doesn't matter if it is the truth, they will say what they think will get the conditions to stop.

So, this information is already spotty at best. Therefore, why would we want to use information that will be incorrect?

Need a more recent example?

Look at Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 'mastermind' of 9/11, Since his capture by American forces, Khalid has confessed to being the mastermind behind pretty much every terrorist attack against the USA since the dawn of time. And a CIA memo that came out in 2006, had record of Khalid saying that he made up stories to avoid being waterboarded.

Essentially, that brings us back to where we started: Torture doesn't work since those being tortured will say anything to stop being tortured. And for Canada to suddenly say that it doesn't matter if information comes from a tortured person when national security is on the line, suggests that our government is alright with the use of torture.

They may not be telling CSIS to actively torture suspects, but information that comes from other agencies that knowingly use torture is now fair game, even though that information can be entirely suspect.

Essentially, Benjamin Franklin said it best: Those who give up a little public liberty in favour of security, will lose both and deserve neither.

From the heavy subject of torture, we now go to another rights violation in the form of violating workers rights.

A Saskatchewan Justice struck down the Saskatchewan Party's Essential Services Act this week, saying that it was unconstitutional and denied workers the right to collective bargaining. The justice held up another Saskatchewan Party bill however, that makes forming into unions a more difficult process.

This has led the Saskatchewan Labour Federation to announce that they will seek damages for the individuals who had their rights violated, while the SK Party has announced that they will consider appealing the verdict as well as re-writing the law to make it acceptable.

So, we have a government who introduced legislation that they didn't campaign on (and which was decried internationally by the UN labour council) being told that they have one year to sort out the mess that they made themselves.

It's a small victory, that hopefully will hold up against future challenges that the SK Party will undoubtedly fight to keep their legislation in place.

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