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.
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.
The 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.