by Marwaan Macan-Markar
Over two years after being freed from torture in a prison in Laos, Kay
Danes is still haunted by the physical and psychological pain she endured
for 10 months.
While this Australian mother of two recalls being regularly pistol whipped,
threatened with death, mocked and ridiculed by her jailers in 2000, her
husband Kerry was subject to worse pain in the same jail.
"His legs were put in wooden leg blocks that weighed about four to five
kilograms (app. 10 lbs.) and (that had) fishing lines in them which cut
into (the) flesh," she told IPS. "He was electrocuted and sewage water was
thrown down his open mouth as the Lao interrogators tried to drown him."
The Danes, who ran a security agency and were caught up in a government
dispute with a gem mining company, were freed in 2001, in a case closely
followed by the Australian embassy.
Bo Kyi, who endured a seven-year ordeal in a Burmese prison for his
political activism in the nineties, is no different to Danes when it comes
to the wounds left by torture. This slightly built man was beaten with
rubber pipes, kicked by jailers wearing boots, and had his legs shackled
with iron chains.
"I was beaten every two weeks, in the mornings. I fell unconscious at
times," he recalled during an interview. "At the beginning, they deprived
me of sleep, food, and water."
The abuses they were subject to, however, are only some of the forms of
torture used in the prisons of Communist-ruled Laos and military-ruled Burma.
At the Phonthong prison in the Lao capital Vientiane, where the Danes say
they were imprisoned on false charges after the government accused them of
stealing their assets, critics say the prisoners face abuses that include
burning, asphyxiation, and genital torture.
Mock executions, mind-altering drugs and exposure to heat and cold are some
of the violations, according to
foreignprisoners.com, a website that
Danes run to highlight the wanton abuse that is pervasive in some of the
world's most notorious prisons.
In Burma, where the junta has 39 prisons across the country, prisoner abuse
includes psychological torture, such as "a dirty hood (being) placed over
the head," states the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
Physical pain is inflicted through the use of electrodes attached to the
mouth, ears, fingertips, and sexual organs, and water torture, where "drops
of water fall onto the victim's head until, after a number of hours, they
feel like a pounding hammer," adds the AAPP in a report.
Such abuse and more have been quickly pounced on by the U.S. government to
come down hard on the dictators of Laos, Burma, and other oppressive Asian
regimes that run torture chambers in their prisons.
The release this week of the U.S. State Department's annual human rights
report bears this out. Washington castigates the Burmese regime for its ill
treatment of over 1,000 people jailed for their political views and
condemns the Lao communist rulers for their mistreatment of prisoners
languishing in the country's jails.
Other Asian dictatorships, such as Vietnam and North Korea, have also been
regular subjects of Washington's ire over human rights abuse in prisons.
Yet the work of torturers in an U.S.-run prison in occupied Iraq has
offered more than a glimpse into the new depths to which the uniformed men
and women of the U.S. defense forces have taken this form of prisoner abuse.
Two practices common in the Abu Ghraib prison stand out in this regard -
the use of dogs to torment the prisoners and the sexual humiliation of
those jailed. Neither forms of torture prevail in the prisons of Southeast
Asia, say human rights organizations and prison monitoring groups that IPS
"We have not received any reports of prisoners being tormented by dogs,"
said Daniel Alberman, who monitors human rights violations in Cambodia,
Laos, and Vietnam for Amnesty International (AI).
Added Donna Guest, AI's Burma researcher: "We do not have any evidence that
prisoners are subject to sexual abuse and humiliation."
"It is a form of humiliation and degradation that was very troubling to
hear," the former Burmese torture survivor Bo Kyi said of the prisoner
abuse in the U.S-run prison in Iraq. "I have been shocked to see people
being forced to such a state. The pain will not go away easily."
A report by U.S. Major-General Antonio Taguba illustrated the breadth of
such abuse, which ranged from forcing men into various sexual positions,
forcing detainees to masturbate themselves, and sodomizing them with
The U.S. government has also outdone Asian dictatorships in two other
areas. One is the 'luxury' it had of having prisons beyond its borders,
where torture of detainees was reportedly commonplace in the years after
Washington's "war on terror" began in 2001.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), "U.S. forces have employed similar
techniques (used in Abu Ghraib) against detainees at military bases at
Bagram and Kandahar in Afghanistan and Guantanamo in Cuba."
The other is Washington's ability to outsource the practice of torture to
countries known for their rights violations, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt,
Uzbekistan, and Jordan. Captured al-Qaeda suspects have been reportedly
"tortured or mistreated" in the prisons of these countries, adds the New
York-based rights body.
Political analysts, in fact, find the scale of torture in U.S. military-run
prisons no different from that used in the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps
during the Second World War.
"It is a travesty of human rights. It is extremely backward," said Giles
Ungpakorn, professor of political science at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn
University. "This affirms that the U.S. has never had a good human rights
Yet there appears to be convergence in some areas between the torturers in
U.S. military prisons and their counterparts in Asia. This is so in the
methods used to inflict physical pain, such as beating, kicking, and
shackling prisoners into uncomfortable positions and submerging their heads
into water with the threat of drowning them.
Common is the disregard toward international human rights treaties designed
to protect people from torture and inhuman forms of punishment when in the
custody of government or military officials.
While in the United States, the administration of President George W Bush
declared its hostility toward clauses under the Geneva Convention about the
treatment of prisoners, in Communist-ruled Laos the jailers have likewise
been dismissive of human rights instruments.
"They said they didn't care about the Geneva Convention or the U.N.
Declaration of Human Rights," Lao torture victim Danes said of her
tormentors. "They merely laughed and said that Laos is a communist country
and no other country can interfere in the sovereignty of Laos ¬ even the
(Inter Press Service)