CIA black sites: offshore interrogation centres and an increasingly aggressive CIA

With details of the newly published report by the US Senate coming out, this 4 year investigation is shining light on some of the questionable interrogation techniques and the medical staff involved in the “safe keeping” of the detainees of the US Government.

Whilst much of the attention has been focused on the legality and usefulness of the interrogation techniques, many within the medical community have expressed concerns over the role of medical personnel in these interrogation sites.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) are a Nobel Peace Prize winning organisation that investigate and help uncover abuses around the world. They have called for an in depth investigation into the role played by the medical staff employed within the various US governmental departments that use interrogative techniques.

In the original version of the Hippocratic Oath physicians swore to work at the “convenience and advantage of the patient; and I will willingly refrain from doing any injury or wrong from falsehood”. Whilst the Hippocratic Oath is not legally binding, it is a guide and ethical convention that most physicians consider extremely important. This empathetic and caring responsibility seems not to sit well with the roles played by physicians in the CIA ‘black sites’ or even in Guantanamo Bay. This role is quite simple; ensure that the detainee does not die.

There have been several key personalities that have come to light as a result of the investigation, James Elmer Mitchell being one. Mitchell is a former US Air Force psychologist, where he trained interrogators in the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) school. Along with former USAF psychologist Bruce Jessum, he was paid a reported $80 million to design and implement an interrogation programme aimed at detained suspected terrorists.

From what has been leaked of the report so far, it seems that physical and mental harm are not necessarily negatively viewed. Reports of 180 hours of sleep deprivation and hours of stress positions involving standing on broken or damaged lower limbs are emerging.

Dr Mitchell has been reported as saying: “I am just a guy who got asked to do something for his country by people at the highest level of government, and I did the best that I could.”

Appealing to patriotism is a popular move in avoidance tactics, but with the amount of noise coming from the medical community, this looks to be an issue that won’t blow over quickly.

Human trafficking: 36 million victims

In 2014, the Global Slavery Index (GSI) found that worldwide there are nearly 36 million victims of human trafficking. This practice, which is especially prevalent in Asia, shows no signs of disappearing and a solution to the problem is far from clear.

South Africa
At the end of November, South African businessman Lloyd Mabuza was found guilty of imprisoning and raping five girls aged between 10 and 16. For his crime the punishment was 8 life sentences, handed down by Magistrate Andre Lambrecht. His accomplice, Violet Chauke, was found guilty of Human Trafficking for sexual purposes and handed to home affairs for deportation back to Mozambique. The shocking details of the case, where children were left to live in squalor, threatened, and repeatedly raped has shocked South Africa and has the potential to make a severe impact worldwide.

Trafficking in Africa
The GSI report found that the African continent is awash with countries that are home to human trafficking and modern slavery. Of the countries on the continent, South Africa was considered to be one of those where the practice is less common. Because of its ties with Europe, and relative wealth in sub-Saharan Africa, the news that there is human trafficking going on in South Africa will impact the international community, and maybe even elicit a response.

Global law
In Western Europe and the USA the laws on Human Trafficking are strict and carry severe penalties. Nonetheless, the practice still goes on, with trafficking of girls for sexual exploitation an issue that is in and out of the press regularly. This begs the question, are we doing enough to fight this criminal practice?

Bringing down the traffickers
Admittedly, because the occurrence of human trafficking is not as common in the UK, we may find it easy to overlook what is happening elsewhere. Is this attitude cowardly, or should we watch our country first? As a country carrying such immense influence, is it our duty to work with poorer countries to fight the traffickers and criminals who still enslave others?

The next steps
The arguments for ignoring the problem are weak, with the only clear reason being the financial implications of undertaking such a mammoth task. What are the options? More support for victims and potential victims? Clamping down on perpetrators? Relieving the pressure on smaller governments by introducing international tribunals for repeat offenders? The global community is suffering at the hands of those who exploit the weak and underprivileged, and there must be something we can do to fight it.

The death of 43 missing Mexican students

On the 26th September this year, 43 student teachers travelled to the town of Iguala, Mexico to raise funds, and disappeared after violent clashes with municipal police. In the six weeks following that day, evidence has been unearthed to prove that police, the mayor, and gang members were all involved in the mass kidnapping. On 7 November, three gang members confessed to the killing of all 43, explaining how the bodies were then burnt at a landfill site, and the remains thrown in the river.

Human rights abuse
Decades of drug related violence has made this Central-American country one of the most dangerous in the world to live, and it was always a matter of time before such an incident took place. In this case, the most shocking factor is that the police, whose primary function should be to protect civilians, seem to have been heavily involved in the supposed murders – with eyewitnesses reporting that the students were bundled in their cars after the initial altercation.

Corruption
The mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, has been arrested along with the town’s police chief – and the governor of the Guerrero region has also resigned. The repercussions are being felt at the highest level, with protestors setting fires outside the presidential palace in Mexico City. The Mexican people have had enough of the continued corruption and violence, and the government needs to act decisively in dealing with the core issues of the crimes.

Continued violence
The story has shocked the world, shining a spotlight on the issues seen in the country on a daily basis. How can Mexico change? What will fix this country which struggles with its burden of being the centre point between North and South America? Is there an answer?

Strength in power
There is no simple solution: the drug cartels are ruthless and have terrifying power over politicians and police throughout the country. The answer lies at the top of the political hierarchy, President Peña Nieto has to be stronger. He has to make sure his appointments are morally sound and he must remove the elements of outside influence from any position of power.

Global assistance
The rest of the world must support him in order for this to happen, as the cartels have become too strong for the state to handle alone. Violence and corruption have grown immeasurably because characters such as Abarca, with links to organised crime, are able to sit in positions of power and neglect their responsibilities. Purging the system of corrupt politicians and fighting the cartels is likely to be a long and difficult project, but with the support of the world Mexico can at least try to reach that goal and give its 122 million citizens renewed hope.

Ashya King: lessons to be learned

The parents of 5 year old Ashya King were released from a Spanish prison after a European arrest warrant against them was cancelled; this arose following their actions to smuggle him out of Southampton General Hospital and travel to Spain, believing he was not getting the best care and that his condition would deteriorate. They wanted Ashya, who has a brain tumour, to receive treatment at the Proton Therapy Centre in Prague.

However, the full force of the Law immediately swung into action, involving the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Hampshire Constabulary. The couple were arrested, handcuffed, separated from their son and thrown into prison, simply for loving their son and wanting the best possible treatment for him.

Justice for the Kings
Only after a sustained cry of public protest ensued, involving the Prime Minister, were the parents re-united with their desperately ill son. By now the child was confused, depressed and lying alone in a foreign hospital, adding to the family’s anguish.

Mr King said: “We want to help our son get through this bad time because he hasn’t got too many months to live and we’re locked away in a cell…”

Mrs King, said: “I just want to wet his mouth because he can’t drink through his mouth, I want to brush his teeth, I want to turn him side to side every 15 minutes because he can’t move.”

Yet, he could still see and feel emotions. Would deprivation of a mother and father’s comfort help Ashya? How would the little boy’s confidence and trust be impacted long term? The story has touched the hearts of people worldwide.

We have since learnt that the private clinic in the Czech Republic can treat Ashya.

Duty of care v parents love
The CPS said the risk to Ashya’s life “was not as great or immediate as had been originally thought.” The parents had ordered specialist foods to care for Ashya, and had managed to charge the food pump.

Doctors have a duty of care to do the best for their patients. Do loving, devoted parents also have a right to disagree with their decisions? Isn’t there a case for decent common sense to prevail?

On the other hand, what sort of outcry would have happened if the doctors had let him go without a word and the boy had died? What would this say about his medical care?

The parents have won their brave fight against the institutions yet only after the healthcare system, the police and prosecutors were ruthless in their pursuit of them.

Was their only crime to opt out of receiving NHS care? Having allowed their son to be treated by the NHS they couldn’t escape its clutches and were punished if they dared to disobey the rules? Was this the fault of the doctors or a heavy handed NHS?

Should we question a healthcare system that, instead of apologising to the parents when they thought the service was not good enough, reacted with an unpleasant uproar?

Clearly, there are some lessons to be learned.

Extremism and brainwashing kids at school – A crime against humanity?

In recent weeks, the issue of extremism and brainwashing in UK schools has once again re-occurred in the media and in parliament.

Specifically, education secretary Nicky Morgan announced that there would be certain school reforms following ‘disturbing’ findings in Birmingham schools.

These findings were uncovered by education commissioner Peter Clarke. He was appointed to the role when a letter, detailing what was happening in certain schools in the Midland, was uncovered.

Known as the ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ letter, it showed plans to push a more Islamist doctrine in some schools – ousting any teacher who did not actively follow the same agenda.

The report

In his report, Clarke found that in some Birmingham Schools there was an Islamist ethos that was not only “intolerant” but also “aggressive”.

In some cases, sexism, homophobia and hostility to other forms of extremism were being actively promoted.

Clearly, this level of intolerance is not acceptable within our schools, primarily because of the ease with which children are easily led.

How do you solve the brainwashing and extremism problem?

In response to Clarke’s findings, Morgan introduced two new reforms, aimed at helping head teachers to overcome any obstacles in running their schools in the correct manner.

She introduced a new education commissioner for Birmingham, where the majority of extremism is in evidence, as well as a new board of head teachers for staff to receive extra support.

These new tiers of oversight were specifically created to support teachers, making sure that extremist views are not influencing their work.

The responsibility placed on the shoulders of a teacher, at both primary and secondary level, is often a heavy burden to carry.

And it is important that they are properly supported and regularly assessed, to make sure the curriculum is being taught correctly.

Religious extremism needs to be avoided and an understanding of difference and diversity should be instilled in our school system.

Conclusion – a crime against humanity

The period up until the age of 18, is one of the most important periods in a person’s life. The ability to absorb information will never be better and a child’s ideals are very often moulded at this time.

For this very reason, brainwashing children to extremist views can be seen as a crime against humanity.

Children have the right to have a balanced upbringing, where an innate tolerance and understanding of cultural and religious diversity is a strong platform for the future.

If our children are influenced by extremist versions of religion, humanity will suffer when our society becomes more fractured and intolerant.

Are Whistleblowers being treated fairly?

Whistleblowers are being victimised when they go back to work.

A recent government report found that whistleblowers were often victimised and bullied after exposing misconduct in companies and public services in the UK.

As the expenditure of public money is often shrouded in a cloud of secrecy, a whistleblower can give us an insider’s perspective – divulging valuable information that lies within the public interest.

Legally protected

The act of whistle blowing is covered, in law, by the 1998 Public Disclosure Act.

For information to be leaked legally, it must be proven to relate to malpractice or criminality.

Atrocities such as the police cover up of the Hillsborough disaster have been revealed because of whistleblowers and it remains an important way to uncover wrong doing.

The second section of the law states that whistleblowers have the “right not to suffer detriment”.

This rule is more difficult to enact because the public body or company, and fellow employees, often suffer as a result of the whistleblowing.

Upon returning to the workplace, whistleblowers are often treated with disdain. They are harassed and bullied and although covered legally, it is difficult to reprimand those who are singling them out.

The report says that: “the whistleblowers fears of reprisal are often justified, and such experiences are likely to deter other employees from raising a concern”.

How is it possible to fairly treat whistleblowers?

If whistleblowers do not feel like they are protected then they are less likely to reveal important evidence.

It is thus important that we push for those who victimise whistleblowers to be given harsher punishments.

Although the law currently protects whistleblowers, punishments for harassment are not nearly heavy enough.

Companies and public services should be forced to do everything in their power to make sure that this consistent problem does not occur.

Conclusion

The report states that: “Where the identity of whistleblowers is known, departments must ensure that they are protected, supported and have their welfare monitored”.

It also offers three suggestions to how companies should work with whistleblowers:
1. “Ownership from the top by assigning a board member who is accountable for the proper treatment of whistleblowers”.
2. “Providing whistleblowers with appropriate support and advice, such as access to legal and counselling services”.
3. “Appropriate and swift sanctions against employees, at all levels in the organisation, if they victimise whistleblowers”.

All of these suggestions, especially the third recommendation, would help to make the life of a whistleblower easier. In turn, this would make it more likely for people to come forward and expose issues which are of great importance to us all.