The Business of Torture
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin
Also published by United Press International (UPI)
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Written January 17, 2003
Updated March 9, 2005 and March 20, 2010
A report published in March 2010 by Amnesty International and the Omega Research Foundation and titled “From Words to Deeds” accused European companies of manufacturing and selling “tools of torture”. Among these were fixed wall restraints, metal "thumb-cuffs", and electroshock "sleeves" and "cuffs" that deliver 50,000V shocks.
These commercial activities run contra to a 2006 EU-wide legislation which bans (and, for some types of equipment, merely regulates) the sale of policing and security implements and devices that can be used to torture and maim. But the law remains a dead letter in many countries in the Union.
Brian Wood, Amnesty International's Military Security and Police manager told the media:
"Our research shows that despite the new controls, several Member States, including Germany and the Czech Republic, have since 2006 authorized exports of policing weapons and restraints to at least nine countries where Amnesty International has documented the use of such equipment in torture ... Moreover, only seven states have fulfilled their legal obligations to publicly report their exports under the Regulation. We fear that some states are not taking their legal obligations seriously.”
Among the findings of the report:
The Czech Republic has
issued licenses to export shackles, electric shock weapons and chemical sprays
to six countries whose police and security forces are known offenders against
human rights and have made use of precisely such items to torture detainees; Germany
allowed the export of foot-chains and chemical sprays to three such countries;
Equipment manufacturers in Italy and Spain
sold “law enforcement” 50,000V electric shock restraints ("cuffs" or
"sleeves"). The EU bans the trading of virtually identical electric
"stun belts" but this prohibition did not deter another EU Member
State – Hungary – from introducing them in its prisons and
Five Member States stated that there are no producers (Belgium, Cyprus, Italy, Finland, Malta) or exporters (Belgium, Cyprus, Italy) of such equipment in their territories. At least three of them - Finland, Italy and Belgium – lied: companies in these countries deal with such materiel openly and even maintain online sales catalogues of their own products or torture instruments manufactured in other – mostly developing - countries.
On January 16, 2003, the European Court of Human Rights agreed - more than two years after the applications have been filed - to hear six cases filed by Chechens against Russia. The claimants accuse the Russian military of torture and indiscriminate killings. The Court has ruled in the past against the Russian Federation and awarded assorted plaintiffs thousands of euros per case in compensation.
As awareness of human rights increased, as their definition expanded and as new, often authoritarian polities, resorted to torture and repression - human rights advocates and non-governmental organizations proliferated. It has become a business in its own right: lawyers, consultants, psychologists, therapists, law enforcement agencies, scholars and pundits tirelessly peddle books, seminars, conferences, therapy sessions for victims, court appearances and other services.
Human rights activists target mainly countries and multinationals.
In June 2001, the International Labour Rights Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of 11 villagers against the American oil behemoth, ExxonMobil, for "abetting" abuses in Aceh, Indonesia. They alleged that the company provided the army with equipment for digging mass graves and helped in the construction of interrogation and torture centres.
In November 2002, the law firm of Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll joined other American and South African law firms in filing a complaint that "seeks to hold businesses responsible for aiding and abetting the apartheid regime in South Africa ... forced labour, genocide, extrajudicial killing, torture, sexual assault, and unlawful detention".
Among the accused: "IBM and ICL which provided the computers that enabled South Africa to ... control the black South African population. Car manufacturers provided the armoured vehicles that were used to patrol the townships. Arms manufacturers violated the embargoes on sales to South Africa, as did the oil companies. The banks provided the funding that enabled South Africa to expand its police and security apparatus."
Charges were levelled against Unocal in Myanmar and dozens of other multinationals. In September 2002, Berger & Montague filed a class action complaint against Royal Dutch Petroleum and Shell Transport. The oil giants are charged with "purchasing ammunition and using ... helicopters and boats and providing logistical support for 'Operation Restore Order in Ogoniland'" which was designed, according to the law firm, to "terrorize the civilian population into ending peaceful protests against Shell's environmentally unsound oil exploration and extraction activities".
The defendants in all these court cases strongly deny any wrongdoing.
But this is merely one facet of the torture business.
Torture implements are produced - mostly in the West - and sold openly, frequently to nasty regimes in developing countries and even through the Internet. Hi-tech devices abound: sophisticated electroconvulsive stun guns, painful restraints, truth serums, chemicals such as pepper gas. Export licensing is universally minimal and non-intrusive and completely ignores the technical specifications of the goods (for instance, whether they could be lethal, or merely inflict pain).
Amnesty International and the UK-based Omega Foundation, found more than 150 manufacturers of stun guns in the USA alone. They face tough competition from Germany (30 companies), Taiwan (19), France (14), South Korea (13), China (12), South Africa (nine), Israel (eight), Mexico (six), Poland (four), Russia (four), Brazil (three), Spain (three) and the Czech Republic (two).
Many torture implements pass through "off-shore" supply networks in Austria, Canada, Indonesia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lithuania, Macedonia, Albania, Russia, Israel, the Philippines, Romania and Turkey. This helps European Union based companies circumvent legal bans at home. The US government has traditionally turned a blind eye to the international trading of such gadgets.
American high-voltage electro-shock stun shields turned up in Turkey, stun guns in Indonesia, and electro-shock batons and shields, and dart-firing taser guns in torture-prone Saudi Arabia. American firms are the dominant manufacturers of stun belts. Explains Dennis Kaufman, President of Stun Tech Inc, a US manufacturer of this innovation: ''Electricity speaks every language known to man. No translation necessary. Everybody is afraid of electricity, and rightfully so.'' (Quoted by Amnesty International).
The Omega Foundation and Amnesty claim that 49 US companies are also major suppliers of mechanical restraints, including leg-irons and thumbcuffs. But they are not alone. Other suppliers are found in Germany (8), France (5), China (3), Taiwan (3), South Africa (2), Spain (2), the UK (2) and South Korea (1).
Not surprisingly, the Commerce Department doesn't keep tab on this category of exports.
Nor is the money sloshing around negligible. Records kept under the export control commodity number A985 show that Saudi Arabia alone spent in the United States more than $1 million a year between 1997-2000 merely on stun guns. Venezuela's bill for shock batons and such reached $3.7 million in the same period. Other clients included Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mexico and - surprisingly - Bulgaria. Egypt's notoriously brutal services - already well-equipped - spent a mere $40,000.
The United States is not the only culprit. The European Commission, according to an Amnesty International report titled "Stopping the Torture Trade" and published in 2001:
"Gave a quality award to a Taiwanese electro-shock baton, but when challenged could not cite evidence as to independent safety tests for such a baton or whether member states of the European Union (EU) had been consulted. Most EU states have banned the use of such weapons at home, but French and German companies are still allowed to supply them to other countries."
Torture expertise is widely proffered by former soldiers, agents of the security services made redundant, retired policemen and even rogue medical doctors. China, Israel, South Africa, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States are founts of such useful knowledge and its propagators.
How rooted torture is was revealed in
September 1996 when the US Department of Defence admitted that ''intelligence
training manuals'' were used in the Federally sponsored School of the Americas
- one of 150 such facilities - between 1982 and 1991.The manuals, written in
Spanish and used to train thousands of Latin American security agents,
"advocated execution, torture, beatings and blackmail", says Amnesty
Where there is demand there is supply. Rather than ignore the discomfiting subject, governments would do well to legalize and supervise it. Alan Dershowitz, a prominent American criminal defence attorney, proposed, in an op-ed article in the Los Angeles Times, published November 8, 2001, to legalize torture in extreme cases and to have judges issue "torture warrants". This may be a radical departure from the human rights tradition of the civilized world. But dispensing export carefully reviewed licenses for dual-use implements is a different matter altogether - and long overdue.
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