It is something of a joke these days to see the US State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Talk about the pot calling the kettle(s) black.

Since the 11 September 2001 attacks, the human rights struggle has suffered a beating at the hands of the United States. In particular, the obnoxious practice of detention without trial has been given a new lease of life.

The United States is holding close to 14,000 prisoners in Iraq, another 500 in Afghanistan and nearly 500 more in Guantanamo Bay. That’s not counting the unknown number of ‘suspected terrorists’ held by the CIA in secret “renditions” at various locations around the world. God knows how many of them have been tortured.

That’s not counting the hundreds of others held without trial by other countries in their own regional ‘wars on terror’. For instance, in Malaysia, there are close to 100 people being detained without trial at the Kamunting Detention Centre – over 50 of whom are alleged JI members and half a dozen alleged KMM members. Neighbouring countries in Asean too are holding alleged terrorists without trial using similar undemocratic laws.

Torture (whether physical or psychological) and detention without trial violate natural law as well as international law. So why are these “civilised” nations doing it – or turning a blind eye to such practices?

This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for the Malaysian Herald last October, in which I highlighted the illuminating analysis provided by Middle East historian Juan Cole.

Indeed, militarism, manifested in the “war on terror”, is the dark side of neo-liberal globalisation. Many analysts believe the ‘‘war on terror’’ has been hyped up to mask the United States’ rush into the Middle East to take strategic control of crucial oil reserves as global oil production reaches a plateau in the next few decades.

But why is the United States so keen on allowing torture? ‘‘Boys and girls, it is because torture is what provides evidence for large important networks of terrorists where there aren’t really any, or aren’t very many, or aren’t enough to justify 800 military bases and a $500 billion military budget,” says analyst Juan Cole, a professor of Modern Middle East History at the University of Michigan….

“The Bush administration needs the Terror/al-Qaeda bogeyman to justify the military occupation of strategic countries that have or are near to major oil and gas reserves,” says Cole, in his “Informed Comment” blog. “It needs al-Qaeda to justify the lily pad bases in Kyrgyzstan etc. But the problem is that we now know that serious al-Qaeda is probably only a few hundred men now, and at most a few thousand.”

How do you prove to yourself and others a big terror threat that requires a National Security State? You torture people into alleging it, he says. “Global terrorism is being exaggerated and hyped by torture just as the witchcraft scare in Puritan American manufactured witches.”

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