Moko Rangitoheriri

by Don Franks

The torture and slaying of Moko Rangitoheriri appalled and sickened me, as it did most people in New Zealand. I say most, because not everyone is repelled. There are those in our society who regularly abuse and murder children.

How humans can become brutalised to commit such crimes is hard to understand. The impoverishment of generations plays an indelible part. In wretched ghettos of New Zealand discarded by capitalism there are families reduced to hopelessness by generational unemployment.

US soldiers humiliating and torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib

US soldiers humiliating and torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib

Families with no positive role models. Hardly ‘families’ at all, more like atomised individuals fighting blindly for their own corner, with no sense of solidarity and little sense of right and wrong.

However, as is frequently pointed out by politicians, most recently Labour leader Andrew Little, not all people in poverty abuse children. And so, the familiar argument continues, the problem is not really poverty, but the existence of a few evil people. People who think it’s ok to inflict torture on those unable to resist.

downloadThe problem with this argument is the fact that vicious torture of the helpless is currently socially acceptable. It is sanctioned by the rulers of society and carried out by their minions.

Torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by US army personnel is widely known. Rape, sodomy, physical abuse and murder were inflicted, not by desperate poor people lashing out, but by well-fed fully-employed people, troops, supposedly trained to be disciplined in their behaviour.

Equally well-documented is the torture of Irish prisoners by the British army. This became so institutionalised that, among other things, a purpose built torture chamber was built at Ballykelly in County Derry where treatment was meted out that those incarcerated never recovered from. Torture was, moreover, commonplace at Castlereagh ‘interrogation centre’ in Belfast.

New Zealand elite soldiers have not been above participation in torture. A 2015 edition of Metro magazine reviewed three incidents – one in 2002 and two in 2010 – when the SAS in Afghanistan took prisoners and handed them to other forces.

In May 2002 the SAS led a mission in the village of Bande Timur, 80km west of Kandahar.

According to Metro, it resulted in the deaths of at least three people, including a small child, and the arrest and torture of many others after the SAS handed 55 prisoners over to US forces.

Torture of the helpless is becoming more acceptable rather than less.

In his article ‘The Tiger Cages of Viet Nam‘, Don Luce wrote: “My best friend Nguyen Ngoc Phuong was tortured to death in 1970. . . He was arrested by the U.S.- sponsored Saigon police in one of his many anti-government demonstrations. After three days of continuous interrogation and torture, he died.

“‘He was tortured by the (Saigon) police but Americans stood by and offered suggestions,’ said one of the men who was in prison with him. Perhaps this is the biggest single difference between Viet Nam and Abu Ghraib. In Viet Nam, the U.S. primarily taught and paid the Saigon police and military to do their bidding. In Abu Ghraib and Iraq, the U.S. military is carrying out the torture themselves.”

Is it a ridiculous diversion from the tragedy of Moko to speak in the same breath of torture by military personnel?

I don’t believe it is.

We are conditioned to accept torture of the helpless by the powerful if the crime is packaged acceptably . If those tortured are suitably demonised. Thus, for example, the IRA deserved torture – they planted bombs. The armed colonial invasion which goaded the Irish to desperate resistance comes depicted as a sweet old lady waving from a coach and four.

The torture of a child by brutalised lumpen people is not the same as the torture of an unarmed civilian by a trained soldier. But they occur in the same village, and are not unconnected.

  1. Marine Maid says:

    Don thank you. Sad so sad, so damn bad, Moko, little one, RIP p.s I love your voice Don

  2. Phil F says:

    Excellent piece. And it’s sick-making to see people like the ‘Sensible Sentencing Trust’ trying to make political mileage for their reactionary agenda out of this. They are ardent supporters of our screwed-up alienated society – and want to make it even more screwed up and alienated.

    While capitalism makes society more and more individuated and breaks down community, we will be producing more and more lumpen people committing these horrible acts. Then we are supposed to just lock ’em up and throw away the key, rather than discuss what is causing the problem and actually trying to find solutions rather than just putting a prison cell at the bottom of each cliff!

  3. Irvine says:

    Good piece Don. In an authoritarian society the average citizen will find torture at a personal level abhorent but turn a blind eye to state violence. Well that is what happened in South Africa. I believe much the same is creeping in here where secrecy, disregard for social predicament and divisive political management finds currency with authoritarian agendas blaming the individual. At all costs dictatorial capitalists must keep the lid on social inequality and unrest.