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Dutton’s message: torture works

Yesterday I had a Twitter conversation about Kathryn Bigelow’s movie, Zero Dark Thirty, which was shown on SBS last night.

Many angry critics have described the film as CIA propaganda advocating torture, and accused Bigelow of making an immoral argument that torture works. That wasn’t my reading as I argue here.

This revisiting of the film and the arguments surrounding it made it obvious to me that the message “torture works” is precisely the message the current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison before him, and several former Prime Ministers including Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have sent to the world since the indefinite detention, off-shore and previously in the hell holes of Woomera and Baxter, of waterborne asylum seekers began.

They are not even particularly subtle about conveying this message: forcing women, children and men to live in circumstances in which they are tortured will deter others from attempting to seek asylum in Australia. It’s that stark.

To dissuade attacks from rusted on ALP supporters: Paul Keating built Woomera. I went there. It was one of Dante’s circles of hell. So please don’t come at me with the usual defence of your political party’s position on asylum seekers. There’s a bee’s dick of difference between the major parties.

Every time politicians insist that bringing refugees from Manus and Nauru to Australia will “start the drownings at sea again”, he or she is arguing, to the world, that “torture works.”

Frank Brennan, John Menadue, Tim Costello and Robert Manne have here proposed a solution to the current ghastly impasse. Their proposal retains the turn-back policy:

We believe there is no reason why the Turnbull government cannot do now what the Howard government previously did – maintain close intelligence co-operation with Indonesian authorities, and maintain the turn-back policy, while emptying the offshore processing centres and restoring the chance of a future to those we sent to Nauru or Manus Island three years ago or more by settling them either in Australia or, if any are willing, in other developed countries. Like Howard, Turnbull could maintain the offshore processing centres in case of an emergency.

Boats are to be turned back to their point of departure, usually Indonesia or in the case of Sri Lankan refugees, southern India where they continue to live as stateless people with few, if any rights.

The proposition put by Brennan et al would at least thwart the message that torture works, to which our politicians seem alarmingly attached. It’s by no means an ideal solution, but it could be our next step in addressing a situation that in its current manifestation is hideously wrong in every possible way.

Critiquing their proposition is a post in itself, and I won’t do that here.

As I argue Bigelow’s film demonstrated, the proposition that torture works is in itself a terrifying premise for debate. Who are we, that we would engage in such a debate in the first place?

It isn’t about whether or not torture works. It’s about torture even being considered, and then implemented as an option. You might argue that no politician foresaw or planned the circumstances that have evolved on Manus and Nauru, and you’d likely be correct. So we have come to torture by accident, rather than by design. Having arrived at that point, even accidentally, we are culpable and every day we reinforce the message that torture works, we add to our burden of culpability. What was initially accidental, thoughtless, ignorant, uncaring, politically self-seeking becomes, in the maintaining of it, deliberate.

Which puts us in the company of the CIA and its propaganda, does it not? Not to mention Donald Trump.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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  1. DisablednDesperate

    Pentridge Prison in the early 80’s realised housing men in one room was not good policy for either the staff or the prisoners. They stopped it. It is heart shattering that holding 200 plus men in one room is the least of the concern now.

  2. roma guerin

    Yes Jennifer, I am afraid you are right. I have become very bitter as the years have gone on, and the public face of both the major parties has not changed one whit on this issue. Reading almost daily on FB supporter sites about the horrors inflicted on the inmates of Nauru and Manus has made me so. The MSM has refused to print anything other than the Govt mantras and downright lies, so I am told. I hold out hope that rallies on 27 August will be well-attended everywhere, but unless they receive decent coverage on TV, the apathetic Australian will continue to turn away, and the ill-informed will continue to spout their vile opinions at every chance.

  3. Davidbruce

    It seems that Mr Dumb One may become the victim of his own policies. The out of sight, out of mind approach to implementing Government policies tends to result in payback. I have lived long enough to see it many times. If Australians are apathetic, blame the effects of long term dosage of fluoride. It worked for Hitler in the concentration camps, and it is working in all the Western Countries. This year we saw the first of many UK-based medical studies which confirmed that sodium fluoride is a neurotoxin.
    Now, more than ever I can see that Australian politicians are controlled by interests associated with the banks, Main Stream Propaganda, and large corporations. It should come as no surprise, as all this was detailed in the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, written before 1880. It should be compulsory reading for every politician, public servant and members of the Australian Armed Forces.
    I know it is a “hoax”, but it provided an effective blueprint for the 21st Century society in which we live!

  4. babyjewels10

    Yes, Jennifer is right, and I agree with you too, roma guerin. And I feel your bitterness. As for the rallies, we on social media, must spread the word and afterwards, the pictures and videos, far and wide.

  5. Kerri

    I have said for years we should be pro active in dealing with asylum seekers.
    Rather than waiting for them to knock at our door why not work with international aid agencies and actually send planes or boats to get refugees designated as such by International Red Cross, Medecin Sans Frontieres, Save The Children. The UN and many more.
    Set a number from each region or country and go and get the people who need to be saved.
    No smugglers involved!
    No risk to the refugees whom we seem overly caring of when it suits us to refuse them entry.

  6. Jennifer Wilson

    I doubt there’ll be adequate coverage, Roma, given past events. Tho I think the tide might be at last slowly turning against government policy on this matter.

  7. Jennifer Wilson

    That’s the first time I’ve heard fluoride held responsible for apathy. I look forward to finding out more about this.

  8. paulwalter

    Yes. It is true. Combined with phonetics, the results can be beyond description.

  9. helvityni

    Paul, I read Richard Waterhouse’s very funny memoir about growing up in Albury/ Wodonga area, extremely entertaining is the chapter about country folk’s fluoride wars; some for it , more against.

    People always know what they DON’T want or like…

  10. paulwalter

    Helvi, You’d remember what a big issue the Great Fluoride Plot of the nineteen sixties, when it was alleged that communist spies encouraged fluoridation of reservoir water claimed to curb tooth decay as something meant to poison us all.

  11. king1394

    Torture works if you are forcing someone to say or do whatever you tell them will make it stop. It does not necessarily uncover truth or change deeply held principles

  12. diannaart

    Australia has always lied to itself. It is not the nation of a fair go. It never has been.

    We started by invading this land, eradicating the inhabitants either unthinkingly by a “we know what’s better for you” attitude, or deliberately, including deliberate homicide, forcing to fit into an alien culture but without the same societal standing, stealing their children, stealing land for private enterprise, never consulting on matters directly pertaining to first nation peoples and more – I am trying not to vomit.

    After taking all the best arable coastal with-a-view land we then put the White Australia Policy into place. Major bullying.

    We have a bullying culture in schools, we are not free to pursue our interests unless they are sport, sport and more sport. We have massive dollars spent on the Institute of Sport, where’s the same for art or even just maintaining our public schools? Culture is a dirty word for bullies.

    We have a hierarchical system of employment that rewards bullies, our leaders demonstrate their bullying prowess every day. Bullies never admit when they are wrong.

    The horror or treatment of asylum seekers is world news, we can’t hide what we have done this time. Watching Dutton, et al squirm is almost a form of entertainment.

  13. bobrafto

    Great piece, the bee’s dick was the piece de resistance.

  14. Jennifer Wilson

    Exactly, King.

  15. Jennifer Wilson


  16. Carol Taylor

    “Article 31 of the 1951 Convention exempts refugees coming directly from a country of persecution from being punished on account of their illegal entry or presence, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence,”

    Therefore in using extended incarceration is ‘a deterrent’ to others is in fact unlawful, and it is therefore interesting that while the Howard and Abbott governments discretely skirted around the issue, using every euphemism in their vocabularies, that the heavy-handed Dutton has confirmed the worst of the impressions of the UN – that Australia is indeed a party to the torture of asylum seekers (men, women and children) via indefinite incarceration for no other reason than to teach others a lesson. An illegal act for which one day, Australia will have to face the consequences.

  17. paulwalter

    The heat has not really gone out of this debate-still polarised.

    I wonder if some haven’t missed the constructed-in proposal Wilson left for consideration for whomever might recognise and consider it.

    This the proposal by some of the older statesmen of genuine liberalism, as to moving the people we have direct moral duty of care whatever the practicalities to Australia, maybe a couple of thousand probably pretty wrecked human beings?

    It’s an other way, something that solves the immediate human needs logjam well entrenched. Refugee activists will raise their hands in horror, but must face reality: the country in its present inflamed frame of mind, susceptible to media manipulation, will not take inflows much beyond this and perhaps thirty thousand more in the short term.

    It can be a transitional step to a less agitated response from some sections of the public, once it shows,fairly quickly that the refugees are ok. They already know by and large with the current ethnic mix of public transport users that it matters nothing if a person sitting next to you is now likely an African or Southwest Asian..

    The point is, we can’t go on acting like animals, also because there is also a danger that sensitisation or tolerance will entrench the crook side of things. Once the practicalities are addressed things can finally move forward, but I think the slightly better chance rest with Labor,provided the current government falls soon.

  18. Jennifer Wilson

    Carol, do you recall how they used the phrase”coming directly from a country of persecution” to get around the Convention?. Boat arrivals came via several countries, not “directly” & politicians took this as an opportunity to accuse them of shopping around, & frame them as criminals.

  19. Jennifer Wilson

    Yes, agree PW, the Brennan et al proposal I see as a circuit breaker that will bring Manus & Nauru refugees to Australia for resettlement and end the impasse.

    I think the next step should be a centre in Australia that assesses future arrivals, and forges resettlement agreements with willing countries.

    There is something going terribly wrong here: even tho we agreed to take Syrian refugees in some thousands, we have as yet only accepted a handful while in the same time frame Canada has resettled many, many more. Why is this so? Could it be that this government doesn’t actually intend to accept the numbers it trumpeted about?

  20. nurses1968

    Peter Dutton might be a few slices short of a loaf but he seems to have got around the issue of Manus Island PNG.Somewhere I read that the PNG Courts ruled detention illegal in PNG so they changed the rules and opened the gates and let refugees catch a bus to town and just return at night to sleep at the Manus Island facility and get free board and lodging.
    Surely one of you who cares could tell me why they couldn’t do the same on Nauru as it seems if the gates are opened and the asylum seekers can come and go they are not classified as in detention.
    Could anyone inform me how many have taken up the offer of resettlement in PNG?

  21. paulwalter

    Poor Jennifer Wilson. Has it not been long this way as to these things since Howard’s time? This century has seen a monotonous series of delaying stunts, disassemblings, obfuscation and prevarications and a desert for good faith. It has been a vanguard apparatus for a substantial attack on Habeas Corpus Law emanating from a USA shocked out of rational action by 9/11. As it and Britain and the rest of Europe have become more paranoid the features that define democracy seem to be wafting back into the mists of time.

    As for Syriana, people are working through it….

  22. jim

    There’s a bee’s dick of difference between the major parties. I disagree labor want a independent observer for one and stop insulting bees.

  23. mark delmege

    Given how we are complicit in invading and destroying these counties I would have thought this sort of ‘collective punishment’ to be a war crime.

    And if you think they give a shit about deaths at sea you are mistaken.

  24. Jennifer Wilson

    Well, yes, sorry I really like bees.
    An independent observer won’t do anything, I don’t think. The refugees have been terribly damaged, they need to be brought here, settled & helped to recover.

  25. Jennifer Wilson

    Nurses 1968, I heard Dutton say the other day that less than 20 have resettled in PNG.

  26. diannaart

    The refugees have been terribly damaged, they need to be brought here, settled & helped to recover.

    We owe them that, after using them as political dupes for years.

  27. paulwalter

    Jennifer, you are a poor Jennifer Wilson because like most of the rest of us are poor whatsits, because you are daily subjected to the nonsenses peddled by the government which are such an insult to the intelligence.

    Apart from being an aesthetic blight, you further know that much of the politics is about achieving dark rather than constructive outcomes.

    Therefore, like any reasonable person, you are saddened and mystified by things you recognise to be unnecessary and destructive, hence my expression of sympathy as you move amongst your flock, seeking to encourage the unwashed.

  28. Jennifer Wilson

    Saddened, mystified & enraged PW.

  29. Annie B

    The little bloke – Howard, started all this. … And it has descended since, into darker places – taken up by brutal neo-cons in this government, and furthered. … Now at an all time low, where refugees, their status, their rights ( internationally recognised but ignored ), their well-being, their will to live, and their health and living standards, are all compromised … so very badly.

    This – led by the most abominable creep ever to present himself in an Australian Parliament – the ‘Glutton’, aided and abetted by his ‘leader’ who has not the guts or integrity to push him to the back bench or out altogether, in order to give someone ( IF there IS someone in the LNP capable ) an accord to seek the proper and humane treatment of these refugees. …. No torture of any kind – just simple humanity.

    Surely it can’t be so difficult. .. but apparently it is, according to the M of I ?

    This slimy excuse for a government, wants to make it appear difficult, wants to revisit the White Australia Policy ( introduced in the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 ) … and wants the Australian populace to relegate itself back to those dark ages of our history – delighting to dumb us down – IF they can ( which I doubt ).

    But wait – there’s more. … this rabid LNP mob seem to have forgotten, that – being the successful multi-cultural nation that we are – we are no longer all ‘white’ ( thank heaven ) … we are made up of many skin hues, creeds, beliefs, languages, ethnic and genetic cultures; peoples from other lands – going way way back. … And it has all worked very well – and still does.

    The entire thing will come back, turning full circle – to bite the LNP in the bum – preferably seeing some or many of the LNP incarcerated for lengthy periods. Doubt it will happen though – they have important friends in important places across the world ( so far ).

    Also doubt that the almighty ( not quite so any more ) U.S. of A, would not hesitate to turn their back on their ‘ally’ Australia, if we dared to oppose their wishes, and stood up for ourselves without them.

    Come to think of it – that mightn’t be such a bad thing at that !!!

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