New book on torture cites Singapore

May 22, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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A new book Torture: Does It Make Us Safer? Is it Ever O.K.? : A Human Rights Perspective (New Press/ Human Rights Watch, 2006) has just been released by Human Rights Watch. Mr Geoffrey Robertson, a leading human-rights lawyer and United Nations war-crimes judge, wrote the foreword. Among his other books are Crimes Against Humanity (Penguin, 2002) and The Tyrannicide Brief: The Story of the Man who sent Charles I to the Scaffold (Chatto & Windus, 2005).

Below is an excerpt of Mr Robertson’s foreword:

Many governments approve the inhumane treatment of detainees “in the interests of national security.” That was the case in Singapore’s “Marxist conspiracy” detentions in 1988, when the Internal Security Department (ISD, the city-state’s secret police) rounded up a group of young lawyers, Catholic aid workers, and women playwrights, detaining them for years without trial and subjecting them to what home affairs minister (now prime minister) Lee Hsien Loong admitted was “psychological pressure to get to the truth of the matter … the truth would not be known unless psychological pressure was used during interrogation.”

This psychological pressure was described by the detainees who became my clients: it amounted to sleep deprivation (for up to twenty hours), standing for interrogation in cotton pajamas under sub-zero blasts from an air conditioner, being doused with cold water, and enduring threats to have their loved ones arrested for similar treatment.

These “psychological pressures” were cunningly chosen so that they would leave marks on the mind but not on the body. But what “truth” did they elicit? They said what their paranoid interrogators told them to say: “I am Marxist inclined … my ideal society is a classless society … I was made use of by…” (insert name of priest or student that the ISD wanted an excuse to interrogate). These “confessions,” made by frightened middle-class idealists to win respite from the deep freeze, were anything but the truth, because the truth in their case was of no interest to conspiracy-fixated interrogators.

Robertson’s full article here

http://www.opendemocracy.net/debates/article.jsp?id=6&debateId=28&articleId=3429