TORTURE: ASIAN AND GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES | AUGUST 2012
VOLUME 01 NUMBER 03
by NILANTHA ILANGAMUWA
Torture is not an isolated phenomenon. It is a tool of the unjust having absolute power. As a social phenomenon, torture has links with the divisions of society. No fog hides the reality of a society where torture and other human rights violations are part of daily life. Torture further creates social anxiety, which enables absolute power to play its game without hindrance.
Undoubtedly, fears and anxieties in the minds of people, created by modern-day political inconsistencies, insecurities, and hegemony, are further precipitated by commercialization.
However, once the system deviates from functioning in a lawful framework, real freedom of society is nothing but a nightmare. Once absolute power escapes from the cage of law, it starts damaging the basic pillars holding the structure of society.
At this point, mankind is subject to such a power, where the very status of citizens can be made to disappear, just like in ancient times under “royal absolutism.”A functional system can no longer exist once the basic pillars have been damaged or abolished.
In many Asian countries, real social stress and anxiety developed due to the problem of a dysfunctional social system and the breakdown of social structure. There are several reasons behind this problem, one being the dialogue of “terrorism” becoming social order in every ideological governance system. Old policies came to be questioned, and most have been replaced. The mandate for closer supervision and justification to establish whatever the government did against its own people and outside its jurisdiction was promoted.
August 2012, marks the 10 year anniversary of the publication of “Torture Memos”, written by John Yoo, Steven G. Bradbury, and Jay Bybee, officials in the Office of Legal Counsel under the Bush Administration. These memos provided a legal framework to work against the torture of detainees held by the CIA in connection with the “War on Terror.” The contents of the memos are spine-chilling. And, it has created new debate on torture internationally. They seem to have paved the way for legal reasoning and disembowelment of the definition of torture in domestic and international laws.
As one of our contributors explained the situation after the memos, “there is nothing ‘simple’ about the literature surrounding the ethics of torture. The idea that the debate will be settled by simply applying one’s preferred moral theory (deontological, utilitarian, virtue theory, or whatever) is itself an extreme oversimplification of the landscape of moral dialogue.” The issue is still critical and many have objected. As our contributor stated, “the argument in favor of torturing the hypothetical terrorist is intuitively persuasive: the utilitarian guideline is ‘the greatest good for the greatest number.’ Nevertheless, absolutist opponents of torture have vehemently attacked the scenario.”
Unfortunately, many innocents have been victimized, and even worse has been that some corrupt regimes also used the memos as a pretext to undermine basic rights of their citizens and political opponents. Many countries in Asia faced this fatal situation, and by and large the people have been victimized. The framework of rule of law has broken down and has been replaced with that of absolute power. Humanity has been murdered, and its rebirth has created tremendous conflict amongst these societies.
As mentioned, many countries in Asia have taken this opportunity to crackdown on real opposition, so they may maintain absolute power. The social system has been tactically assassinated, in addition to which, some regimes have taken the opportunity to get rid of their personal political challenges constitutionally.
The 18th amendment to the constitution of Sri Lanka is a prime example of this political stigma, where the incumbent President passed a bill to abolish the term limit of the executive presidency and thereby assassinated basic norms and dignity of the democratic citizen. Another example is the crackdown by the Burmese regime of the Rohingas Muslims, who live in the Arakan region in western Burma. Hidden causes wring a black history of social control and abuse of mankind – as in the case of Hmong people in Laos, Pashtuns in Pakistan, and Chittagong hill tracks in Bangladesh.
The structural collapse of the social system have narrowed opportunities to social reform, and seem to have led to the police, the legislative and the judiciary becoming tools of the military and/or the executive. In these circumstances, the power of multi-party politics has vanished while the electoral process has been cynically manipulated and seems to have created its own definition of freedom and justice. Major human rights violations such as kidnapping, disappearances, torture, extra judicial killings have become part of daily lives.
Society has become chaotic. And, torture is one of symptoms of destructive social sickness, where justice prevails in text but not in reality. In other words, the practice of torture is a symbol of social failure and destruction. This is the extent of the damage absolute power brings to society. Keeping a weaker opposition or opposition (party or community fighting for justice) with multiple internal conflicts or rifts is an important factor for absolute power to systematically assassinate social order and introduce disorder into the system.
We have entered the situation where the regime only, “imagines that it believes in itself”. These are the words of Slavoj Zizek, who posits that “the formula of a regime which only imagines that it believes in itself” nicely captures the cancellation of the performative power (‘Symbolic Efficiency’) of the ruling ideology: it no longer effectively functions as the fundamental structure of the social bond.” 1
1. Slavoj Zizek – ‘First as Tragedy then as Farce.’