This Side of Silence: Human Rights, Torture, and the Recognition of Cruelty

This Side of Silence: Human Rights, Torture, and the Recognition of Cruelty

This Side of Silence: Human Rights, Torture, and the Recognition of Cruelty

This Side of Silence: Human Rights, Torture, and the Recognition of Cruelty

Synopsis

We are accustomed to thinking of torture as the purposeful infliction of cruelty by public officials, and we assume that lawyers and clinicians are best placed to speak about its causes and effects. However, it has not always been so. The category of torture is a very specific way of thinking about violence, and our current understandings of the term are rooted in recent twentieth-century history. In This Side of Silence, social anthropologist Tobias Kelly argues that the tensions between post-Cold War armed conflict, human rights activism, medical notions of suffering, and concerns over immigration have produced a distinctively new way of thinking about torture, which is saturated with notions of law and trauma.

This Side of Silence asks what forms of suffering and cruelty can be acknowledged when looking at the world through the narrow legal category of torture. The book focuses on the recent history of Britain but draws wider comparative conclusions, tracing attempts to recognize survivors and perpetrators across the fields of asylum, criminal law, international human rights, and military justice. In this thorough and eloquent ethnography, Kelly avoids treating the legal prohibition of torture as the inevitable product of progress and yet does not seek to dismiss the real differences it has made in concrete political struggles. Based on extensive archival research and ethnographic fieldwork, the book argues that the problem of recognition rests not in the inability of the survivor to communicate but in our inability to listen and take responsibility for the injustice before us.

Excerpt

In late April 2002 Binyam Mohamed was turned over to the US authorities after being arrested by Pakistani police at Karachi Airport. Mohamed was born in Ethiopia but in the mid-1990s had claimed asylum in the United Kingdom. He had converted to Islam in 2001, and later the same year traveled to Afghanistan and then Pakistan. Following Mohamed’s detention in Pakistan, he was interviewed by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents and flown to Morocco, where he was imprisoned for eighteen months. Mohamed was then sent to a detention center run by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Afghanistan, and finally, in September 2004, he was sent to Guantanamo Bay. The US military alleged that Mohamed had been trained in Kabul to make “dirty bombs” and was planning to carry out an attack on US soil. The charges against him were eventually dropped, and he was released and returned to the United Kingdom in early 2009.

While Mohamed was in Guantanamo Bay, he made allegations that he had been tortured when he was in Pakistan, Morocco, and Afghanistan. A US court later ruled that Mohamed’s “trauma lasted for 2 long years. During that time, he was physically and psychologically tortured. His genitals were mutilated. He was deprived of sleep and food. He was summarily transported from one foreign prison to another. Captors held him in stress positions for days at a time.” Back in the United Kingdom, Mohamed’s lawyers filed a petition in the courts demanding that the Foreign Office turn over all the evidence they had about his abuse. In the summer of 2008, English judges ruled that any documents held by British authorities should be given to Mohamed’s lawyers but not made public, on the grounds that their full disclosure could harm the intelligence relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States. The judges also found that British agents had “facilitated” Mohamed’s interviews by the Pakistani and American security services. Two years later, English Appeal Court judges ruled that if it “had been administered on behalf of . . .

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