Yes, sleep deprivation is torture - Macleans.ca
 

Yes, sleep deprivation is torture

International and Canadian law leaves no doubt: what Omar Khadr experienced in Guantanamo was torture


 
A U.S. soilder stands inside a hallway at Camp 5 detention facility on May 31, 2009 at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Camp six is a medium-security facility with the capability of holding in a maximum-security portion of its roughly 60 detainees, based on their compliance with rules, according to the U.S. military. Former child soldier Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2002 is expected to appear in a military commission hearing tomorrow with the charge of providing support to terrorism after allegedly throwing a grenade that killed a US soldier. This trial marks the first hearing of the Bush-era war crimes tribunals to take place under U.S. President Barack Obama. (Brennan Linsley/Getty Images)

A U.S. soilder stands inside a hallway at Camp 5 detention facility on May 31, 2009 at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Brennan Linsley/Getty Images)

Stephanie Carvin is an assistant professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, and the author of Prisoners of America’s Wars: From the Early Republic to Guantanamo.

 

The $10.5-million Omar Khadr settlement has brought no shortage of commentary, but one of the most strongly asserted objections to it has been that Khadr is a “confessed killer” who has admitted his deeds in court.

One does not have to be a fan of Khadr to recognize that this claim is suspect. Documents released in 2008 related to the case revealed that Canadian authorities knew that while Khadr was at Guantanamo he was subjected to “the frequent flyer program,” where detainees were moved from location to location every three hours, denying him uninterrupted sleep for three weeks. This was apparently followed by three-week periods of isolation where he was denied any human contact.

Interestingly, the documents also stated that Khadr seemed to be handling the treatment well, noting that “the natural resilience of a well-fed and healthy 17-year-old [is] keeping him going.” So, was this torture?

The answer in international and Canadian law is undoubtedly yes. Canada is a party to the UN Convention Against Torture, where “torture” is defined as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person” for certain acts, including obtaining information. This is cited as a source of the international law which binds military operations in the Canadian Armed Forces Law of Armed Conflict Manual, which also states that “no physical or mental torture, or any other form of coercion, shall be inflicted” on POWs or detainees. Further, the CAF doctrine on interrogations states unequivocally:

Interrogation tactics which involve physical force—beatings, stress position, deprivation of food, and subjection to cold or hot temperatures are prohibited. Methods which are more subtle but have a harmful psychological effect are equally prohibited. Sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, isolation, humiliation, music and light control, use of phobia, and environmental manipulation are also prohibited.

There is good reason for this prohibition. Medical science has demonstrated over and over that there is serious physical and mental harm caused by sleep deprivation. As a report on the effects of psychological torture notes, short and long-term effects can include “memory impairment, reduced capacity to concentrate, somatic complaints such as headache and back pain, hyperarousal, avoidance, irritability, severe depression with vegetative symptoms, nightmares, feelings of shame and humiliation, and post-traumatic stress disorder … incoherent speech, disorientation, hallucination, irritability, anger, delusions, and sometimes paranoia.”

By 2005, the Bush Administration found itself under mounting pressure from Congress and the international community regarding its interrogation practices at Guantanamo. Moreover, it was starting to lose a series of cases at the U.S. Supreme Court. As such, the U.S. banned the regime that Khadr was subject to under the Detainee Treatment Act which prohibited interrogation techniques not listed in the Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation. (The Manual was updated in 2006 to say that detainees must receive four hours of continuous sleep per 24 hours—a policy that remains under international scrutiny.) On his second day in office, Barack Obama ensured these rules applied to all government agencies, including the CIA.

MORE: Omar Khadr remains a prisoner of partisan politics

At best, one might argue the regime Khadr was subject to was not torture but rather “inhumane and degrading treatment”—this was the finding of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of the Republic of Ireland vs. the United Kingdom, when the former argued that the latter was mistreating suspected IRA detainees. However, this would still violate Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which insist that regardless of status, all detainees must be treated humanely at all times, even if those detainees are believed to have belonged to terrorist organizations.

But perhaps more importantly in this unfortunate affair are the commentators and politicians who are seemingly eager to side with human rights violators that used sleep deprivation to extract confessions. The technique was used against Menachem Begin, who went on to become the Prime Minister of Israel, in Soviet prisons during the 1940s. During the Korean War it was used against United Nations prisoners of war to obtain false confessions, which the North Koreans and Chinese then used to punish detainees further—a tactic later adopted by the North Vietnamese. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was used by the regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile and the Soviets in Afghanistan. In 2001, Saudi officials used torture against Canadian William Sampson, including keeping him awake for a week, before he “confessed” to partaking in a bomb plot in that country.

Beyond the claims of a few Bush-era officials, there is little evidence that any of the information gathered at Guantanamo Bay was particularly useful or that it made anyone safer. Indeed, reports indicate that some detainees were subject to 180 hours of sleep deprivation; it’s hard to imagine anyone providing coherent intelligence after that.

MORE: The shady business of paying Omar Khadr

Worse, there are good reasons to believe that Khadr’s participation on the battlefield was illegal and that he could have been charged and prosecuted in a normal court of law. Unfortunately, given the unreliability of information obtained after torture—including psychological torture—it means that Khadr’s “confession” is useless and future prosecution is likely to fail.

The fact remains that three Canadian governments failed to remove Khadr from Guantanamo, ensuring that he will never be properly prosecuted. Instead, the Supreme Court of Canada found that they actively contributed to his detention. Trying to pretend that sleep deprivation is not torture is not going to fix this—but it will actively undermine the credibility of those who claim they are supporting the rule of law.


 

Yes, sleep deprivation is torture

  1. No doubt he was tortured. What I can’t understand is why a Canadian doesn’t automatically have his citizenship revoked when he decides to become a terrorist against his own country. From my perspective he no longer came under our charter of rights-he was a traitor and committed treason.

    • Dual citizenship

      The same loopholes it creates for corrupt business are used by those who would attack us then turn to us for protection.

    • Your assuming he willingly “decided” to become a terrorist. At 15 and under the parental power of his father, I would guess he didn’t decide much. As for treason, if I’m not mistaken we have to be at war. Canada never declared war in this case. The whole situation is quite disturbing from both sides of the story. One thing is obvious, there were a lot of adults in charge and with oversight over the life of this minor. All along and for many years, adults failed him, period. Brainwashing him, dragging him into the hell of war, seriously injuring him, convicting him in a US kangaroo court, imprisoning and torturing him. Is $10M too much, probably. But adults need to stop prosecuting him, he’s gone through enough for one lifetime. Adults, do the adult thing, move on and let this go. It’s over!

      • His mother never objected to him being taken out of the country. There were no judicial proceedings or warrants pursued by the mother to have him returned to Canada from Afghanistan. Omar looked extremely happy and content building the IED’s in the video, and under no coercion.

        The US Afghan War was authorized by both the UN and NATO (under Charter 5). Canada was definitely at war in Afghanistan.

    • A Canadian cannot have his citizenship revoked because he would then be stateless. It’s a fundamental principle of Canadian and international law. (Khadr did not dual citizenship in another country, even ignoring the Charter issues about two classes of Canadian citizenship, it’s not relevant here.)

      And from a practical view: where would he go and how would he get there? No airline will board a passenger on international flights without a passport. No country will let anyone enter without proof of citizenship (the exception are refugees fleeing a war zone or governments persecuting them, Canada is neither.)

      Even they get there, the only places that a deported, stateless person could possibly go is a lawless country which ignores international law. No coincidence, those countries harbour international pirates, war lords and terrorists. Stripping a Canadian of their citizenship and discarding them into that environment seems sure to create a person with enough anger and resentment to seek violent revenge against Canada.

  2. I still saw a ‘Canadian Boy’ in a cell, in a penal colony on the coast of Cuba on the Windward Passage side of the island, with no laws and no respect for human rights. He(Khadr) was a boy on a battle field, caught in the chaos of war, and then he had to become a man in a ‘Human Zoo’. I challenge the MSM to ask any 15 year boy, how they feel about their dads, and then ask them, would they do anything, and i mean anything(whether right or wrong), to earn the respect of their dads. It would be interesting to hear some of the results, but as they say, ignorance is bliss when it comes to not knowing the facts. The Cons should be charged for exploitation. If i was the cons, i wouldn’t allow Steve Harpers head to pop up too often, because if Sheer is not careful, Harper will be the face of the cons in 2019.

    • Harper was the P.M. for a lot longer than the surfer dude will be and for very good reason. I’d like some forensic accounting done to see how Harper, in his last year, spent $19 billion on infrastructure with a balanced budget while Mr. Selfie has spent next to nothing on infrastructure and yet has amassed a deficit of $30 billion. Justin’s old man was equally good at spending money.

      • harper ran the government like a ‘Ponzi Scheme’ he was using money from one department to the other to keep the country afloat because of his reckless spending, and his biggest asset was 2 sets of books, the one he wanted you to see, and the ones he didn’t want you to see, and just to add, he and his party made millions from exploiting anything and anyone, and especially marginalized citizens of this country. I hope Harper keeps popping up like a ‘Jack in the Box’ every so often in the news, it keeping reminding Canadian citizens and voters of the draconian system we lived under while he was in rule.

      • So, you don’t like Justin Trudeau. Totally irrelevant to the Khadr case.

      • Scheer is no ‘surfer-dude’. He’s more anal retentive like a Harper mini-me.

  3. John McCain warned people years ago. I don’t think what happened in North Korea was a coincidence.

    Hat crap?

  4. Wrong. Sleep deprivation is NOT torture and certainly not in this case.

    The SCC never mentions torture. In both cases that dealt with the violation of Khadr’s rights and the issue of repatriation, torture was never mentioned. I would have thought that if Khadr was subject to sleep deprivation that rose to the level of “Torture” – the SCC would have been moved to condemned such conduct and order repatriation. How could the Supreme Court countenance torture by not ordering repatriation. They acknowledge “sleep deprivation” but don’t classify it as “ Torture”.

    The SCC only states that Khadr was subject to sleep deprivation. My reading of the Geneva Conventional and Canada’s Military rules of conduct classify sleep deprivation as a form of “ill Treatment” that is generally prohibited as a part of the interrogation of prisoners. But it doesn’t fall within the definition of “torture” as defined.

    There have also been other judicial findings that Khadr was not tortured. Finally the official apology extended to Khadr did not include an apology for “Torture”. This supports the position that he was not tortured. Compare this to the apology provided to Mahar Arar which did include torture.

    Again, through the course of both SCC rulings there is no mention of “Torture”.

    Did Khadr not make any allegations of torture? I would have thought that had he made such allegations the SCC would be obliged to deal with such allegations.

  5. If it was harmless the guards wouldn’t be fitted out with protective gear (headphones, earplugs , glasses and 40 minute shifts. They spend their off-duty time away from ‘the treatment’ and their sleep is uninterrupted – other than by bad dreams.

  6. There are so many holes in this “argument” that it is worthless – first “Canada is a party to the UN Convention Against Torture, where “torture” is defined as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person” for certain acts, including obtaining information” If getting no more than 3 hours sleep at a time is torture, then I was “tortured” for years while in the Canadian military. As well the author already notes that ““the natural resilience of a well-fed and healthy 17-year-old [is] keeping him going.” so obviously the needed “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental” was having no effect – contradicts itself rather ridiculously doesn’t it? So with a hint of truth, he goes on to say, right after he had decided Khadr was undoubtedly tortured – “At best, one might argue the regime Khadr was subject to was not torture but rather “inhumane and degrading treatment”

    As well – He goes on to say “Worse, there are good reasons to believe that Khadr’s participation on the battlefield was illegal and that he could have been charged and prosecuted in a normal court of law. Unfortunately, given the unreliability of information obtained after torture—including psychological torture—it means that Khadr’s “confession” is useless and future prosecution is likely to fail.” Again, the first responsibility of any government is to ensure the safety of its citizens. The suggestion that the US was going to sit idly by after 3000 innocent civilians were murdered, is delusional. If they had really wanted to avoid issues like this, they could have simply used nukes – and that is precisely what this type of pseudo-intellectual armchair Generalship encourages. Had Khadr been tried as a civilian, he would have been facing charges of murder and attempted murder – and faced the death penalty. As well, under the UN definitions in place at the time Protocol 2 was not ammended until well after his capture he was not a child soldier – one more rather significant error. Frankly, the article is bunk.