Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Suddenly we make the news

While I work I keep checking the news. Yesterday La Repubblica's website was "Amnesty [International] accuses: Blair knew".

Oh-ho. Amnesty makes the headlines. That's new.

That's new because in the few years I've been a member I've read press release after press release with facts and figures - some of them relating to Western countries - that completely overshadowed the things we've all seen these past few days.

Reactions?

None.

Because let's face it. It's not torture that shook the public opinion in the USA and elsewhere. It was known that the US Army used torture. Its own coroners were returning a verdict of murder - not manslaughter, murder - for dead inmates in Baghram jail. What shook up people was not torture. It was pictures in prime time.

Any way, we're making the news. I think that's a good thing. I mean, not that Amnesty is making the news - that people are recoiling in horror. It would have been better if they had paid attention before, but it's a good, good thing that now that they are paying attention, their reaction is of horror.

What this means is that in future, pictures will not be allowed to circulate so freely - it's already happening. This will mean that torture will be carried out with a minimum of caution. Don't take me as a pessimist if I say this: it's not a bad thing. One thing that's glaringly obvious from the pictures themselves, is that there was what Amnesty calls a climate of impunity. Impunity means that people doing that sort of thing are seldom punished and if they are, they are punished extremely lightly. It means that the message travels down the ranks - we're looking elsewhere, and if you have to "take the gloves off" to make prisoners talk, well, we'll be looking out the window. To the extent that you can take pictures in the serene knowledge that nothing will happen to you if they circulate. (I don't rule out the possibility that torture wasn't encouraged or suggested, or even ordered. I'm just going by the most generous interpreation here.)

Now, if I may be permitted to point at the silver lining, the climate of impunity is lessened. People are paying attention.

To be honest, I am inexpressibly glad that the uniform - or almost uniform - reaction to the pictures was horror. Nobody - or very few - said "well, but it's the only language those people understand". Or "it's war, innit?"

This is a good, good thing.

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