13 September 2015

Flexible Torture and the Off-Shoring of Guilt


The word economic comes from the Greek word for house, from which the word economist (‘one who manages a household’) is derived. It was essentially about ‘making ends meet’, the rupees and cents (or equivalents) of the day-in and day-out of individuals and families. Later of course some ‘householders’ figured out that the household’s fortunes can be considerably enhanced if they broadened horizons a little 

It was a simple trick of expanding notion of the household’s playing field beyond the proverbial four walls and the dandu-weta (fence) of the hathara-peththa (four sides). The harvest, in whatever form, would of course pour into the family plot as it were or its representative institutional bissa (storage facility, for paddy, in our context). And from the moment that the economist decided that there’s a universe out there for value extraction, the sky, literally, was the limit. Today, in the 21st Century, we are even buying and selling polluting rights and bartering things like democracy and human rights. 

The point is that capitalism was always global; to the extent that markets were not territorially limited, literally or metaphorically, the greedy fingers of wealth-extraction could never be happy with their length at a given moment. Reach, reach, reach; grab, grab and grab. Guns in booty out. Let the robber barons come. Save the heathens. White Man’s Burden. Blood was spilled. Rivers. Oceans. Human flesh and pride broken into a million pieces just so some happy households could prosper. Don’t trust me. Ask any economist with a sense of history who ran the world’s economy. Families. That’s economics in a nutshell for you.


National boundary never intimidated and never could contain capital. It was and is all about securing access to resource and control of market.

And it is not only about ‘expansion’. It is also about moving out to better hunting grounds if the game becomes scarce or the field too crowded. Flexible capital. If political instability comes a-calling or some laws enacted to protect labour or impose stringent rules about impact on environment, Mr and Ms Capital takes the first flight out to happier hunting grounds. 

Investment is not about benevolence but exploiting more friendly environmental conditions such as cheap, docile and controllable labour, tax-concessions and relatively cheaper inputs. And, for all the arguments about culture and nationalism being secondary to things economic, the fact remains that you’d rather pollute some other country than the one which you like to call ‘home’, you’d rather dump your garbage in someone else’s backyard and you’d rather someone else’s children and not your own were exposed to toxic waste. 

Another way of fattening the household economy without causing a local stink is to outsource. Someone else makes the same thing for a fraction of the cost, pumping all kinds of toxic effluents into the regions waterways; you just do the buy-and-sell. Hands-free, guilt-free. Like wars fought by other people on your behalf. Washington’s foreign policy in Latin America for example was about letting military juntas, dictators, despots and ‘democratically elected’ Governments to secure for US capital interests the facilities of resource extraction and profit making. Cost-effective. 

Well, early this morning of September 13, 2010 (around 3.33 am to be exact) my friend Lydie Meunier sent me a link that made me realize that off-shoring is not just about capital being flexible. 

There’s a name I want to share. Binyam Mohamed. An Ethiopian citizen.

Legal resident of Britain. Arrested in Pakistan in 2002. Handed over to the CIA, which flew him to Morocco where he was held for 18 months, subjected to an array of tortures including cutting his penis with a scalpel and pouring a hot, stinging liquid on the open wounds. He was handed back to the CIA and flown to a secret prison in Afghanistan where he was held in continuous darkness, fed sparsely and subjected to loud noise - like the recorded screams of women and children - 24 hours a day. He was then transferred to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was held for an additional five years. 

He was released and returned to Britain in early 2009 and is now free. Talk about globalization of inhumanity! Talk of off-shoring guilt! Talk of flexible torture! 

Talk of out-sourcing brutality! A federal appeals court in the USA ruled last week that former prisoners of the CIA cannot sue over their alleged torture in overseas prisons because such a lawsuit might expose secret Government information. Wonderful! 

The door is now open to LEGAL (it is not new) ‘dumping’ of torture and inhumanity. This determination will be cited by US torturers the world over to protect themselves from legal action and the relevant court will say ‘Hands off! We cannot expose secret Government information’! 

It’s got all the relevant signatures of all the big household names of capitalism (punning here), this ‘flexibilitying’ of torture and other horrible and inhuman acts that’s so much a part of US Foreign Policy. What was missing was the legal cover. It was bound to come. It has now.

Nine years ago there was a terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. 

It was a hit at those whose interests the international media defend tenaciously when push comes to shove. And so for weeks that’s what we all heard. Two words. Nine. Eleven. There was sympathy for the victims. For the USA? I think not. There’s a reason. 

A reason that has many names. I shall mention just one. Remember this name. Memorize the spelling. 

Whisper it to all US citizens and diplomats you might meet, now or later. 

Binyam Mohamed. Binyam Mohamed. Binyam Mohamed. Binyam Mohamed. Binyam Mohamed. Binyam Mohamed. Binyam Mohamed. It could be your name tomorrow, you know.

*This was first published on September 14, 2010 in 'The Daily News', to which newspaper I wrote a daily column called 'The Morning Inspection'.
Reactions:

2 comments:

sbarrkum said...

Thank you for reminding me of this.
Some links and quotes. Sometimes references are useful.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the case on behalf of five former prisoners who say they were tortured in captivity
To this date, not a single victim of the Bush administration’s torture program has had his day in court.
If this decision stands, the United States will have closed its courts to torture victims while providing complete immunity to their torturers.

documents contained far greater detail of Anglo-American misconduct – details that presumably corroborated Binyam's claims of torture. Rather than hold a trial on these issues, the US shipped him back to Britain; rather than risk further embarrassing disclosures, the UK government settled Binyam's civil claim for damages.

Cobain and I once shared the comfortable notion that Britain stood above the nastiness of torture. Cobain's book demonstrates how naive we were.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/09/us/09secrets.html
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/sep/09/us-court-binyam-mohamed-torture
http://www.theguardian.com/world/binyam-mohamed
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/nov/23/cruel-britannia-ian-cobain-review

Malinda Seneviratne said...

Thanks for the links. There's so much to learn, still.