OPINION

Turning a blind eye to torture

No one state has a monopoly on torture. According to Amnesty International’s latest report, at least 106 countries resort to the use of torture. Meanwhile, there are more than 130 countries across the world where one can find firms producing and exporting instruments of torture such as canes and whips as well as high-voltage electroshock equipment, chemicals for dispersing crowds, other chemicals to control the mental state of detainees, and so forth. These products are used in tyrannical regimes but also in what we refer to as democratic states, despite the constitutional provisions and international treaties that forbid the latter from resorting to such tactics. The techniques used by law enforcers during interrogations – how police extract their confessions – are well known. Then there is the traditional collusion between political leadership and law enforcement agents (the police and judicial authorities). In her last article, the assassinated Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya wrote the following lines: «Prosecutors and judges do not act in the name of the law, neither are they interested in punishing the guilty. On the contrary, they are carrying out political orders with the unique goal of providing the Kremlin with favorable verdicts. It is an official machine producing ostensibly honest and spontaneous confessions.» Politkovskaya’s lonely struggle ended on October 7 with three bullets. The torturer is a part of the system. And so the authorities, who give their silent blessing to torture, cannot punish him. The torturer is not born, he becomes what he is. According to American psychologist Stanley Milgram, who in the 1960s studied the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience, many apparently normal people do things that could harm their fellow citizens when asked to by authorities. There follows a methodical indoctrination that gives the torturer the conviction that his victims are enemies of society and of the nation. But citizens are not blameless. A recent study of 25 countries by BBC World shows that an average of 30 percent of people accept the use of torture for the purpose of extracting information, with Israelis and Iraqis at the top of the chart with 43 percent and 42 percent respectively. Human rights are too valuable for society to entrust them blindly to the powers that be. Society must undertake the responsibility of protecting these rights itself.