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We Can Torture, but You Better Not
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 interviewed.

"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 broomsticks.

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 record."

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 U.N."

(Inter Press Service)

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All information is Copyright 1997 - 2006 'Foreign Prisoner Support Service' unless stated otherwise - Click here for the legal stuff
All information is Copyright 1997 - 2006 'Foreign Prisoner Support Service' unless stated otherwise - Click here for the legal stuff