Subject: SBS: Whatever it Takes

Excerpt from SBS Insight

Whatever it Takes

Most of us are repulsed by the idea of torture. The image behind Jenny Brockie was one of many that showed the humiliating treatment of prisoners by American guards at Abu Ghraib - behaviour that was condemned around the world. Inflicting serious pain and suffering on another human being is not just abhorrent, it's also banned under international law. But recent evidence has emerged that American forces may be getting around the rules, by sending terror suspects to countries with a reputation for using torture like Egypt, Uzbekistan and Syria. Australia's Mamdouh Habib claims he was sent to Egypt and tortured. Tonight Insight asks whether torture is wrong in any circumstances or whether it's OK to do whatever it takes, if it means saving lives.


JENNY BROCKIE: We have been talking very theoretically up to this point and I think it's about time we had a look at a real example of one person's experience of torture. Naldo Rei told Sarah Gilbert how he came to be captured as a boy by Indonesian special forces.


REPORTER: Sarah Gilbert

NALDO REI, TORTURE SURVIVOR: When I was nine years old, Indonesian army took my father and killed six people, including my father. That's how I started my resistance involvement.

Naldo Rei worked as a courier with Falintil and the East Timorese resistance during the '80s and '90s, bringing medicine and food to the guerilla fighters in the mountains.

NALDO REI: Suddenly, one of the guerilla fighter members surrender and then they told the army that I was part of clandestine movement and I was the one who helping them. So Indonesian army came to my house and captured me.

Over the next decade, Naldo would be arrested 15 times and tortured seven times. The first time when he was just nine.

NALDO REI: They cut my body with razors, bayonets and, "You have to tell me the truth, if not, we're going to kill you."

REPORTER: How did you possibly keep quiet?

NALDO REI: Because all my family involved. So if I tell their name, they all gonna die. After two weeks, they let me go. They said, "This is stupid young boy, doesn't know anything," so they let me go. And when I arrive at my house, everybody just cry because my body still is swollen and bleeding.

Naldo continued his work as a Falintil courier and was captured again in 1991.

NALDO REI: And I was naked and then... they shocked me with electrocution. Shocked me until I was unconscious. I almost died. And they tied me up, upside down. They kept doing this all the time. When I was 17, they took all my clothes and they pulled out all my toenails. You can see my scars here. Here. This is all from torture. And they were using iron pipes to hit me. And all my bones were broken. And I don't know, even when I was bleeding, but they kept torturing me. And, yeah, better die than alive...I think. I always believed that I'm going to die, but my spirit will never die. My spirit is really important for me because I believe that freedom is coming tomorrow.

Writing helps Naldo deal with his memories and nightmares.

NALDO REI: Even I go to the train or bus, I see somebody with a similarity face, similarity with the Indonesian army, I always scare, I always worry. Like every time my dreams always about torture and torture and killing, and really hard one was when they captured women and they tortured them, and they raped them in front of my eyes. It's always because it was the worst one for me.

JENNY BROCKIE: Naldo, I'd like to thank you very much for joining us tonight. And I deliberately left your story to this point in the program because I think that the discussion has been very theoretical and it must have been very strange for you, in a way, to listen to all these people talking about something you've been through. What do you make of what you've heard here tonight?

NALDO REI: Well I don't want to give a comment but other people have a right to express their feeling. But for me, like, because I fought for my country and my land, I never feel that I was the one who was a victim. But people who are victim and under the pressure of torture by anybody, I feel that they are not human beings if they think that torture is right to do with someone like you.

JENNY BROCKIE: I'm going to ask you a difficult question, in a way, because I suppose I'd like to try to get to the human aspect of this whole story and I wonder whether you could ever imagine any circumstances where you might think torture was justified. Say, during the height of that battle between the Timorese and the Indonesians, the position had been reversed and there had been an Indonesian soldier captured who had critical information that perhaps would save the lives of the people you were trying to help. Could you imagine ever being in a situation where you would want to do that?

NALDO REI: Well, I had a experience that when we captured one Indonesian army, we treat him really well, because we never blamed the Indonesian people but we blamed the Indonesian Government, the army. Because we believe, what we believe that the army come to East Timor is under circumstances.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you can't imagine, you couldn't imagine ever...?

NALDO REI: I never torture somebody because it's so hard, because when I pinch myself, it's sore. Why I have to pinch somebody else? Because they have the same feeling as a human being. I will never do that.

JENNY BROCKIE: Jorge, I would like to ask you because you work with torture victims who arrive as refugees in Australia very often. How often do you hear stories like Naldo's story?

JORGE AROCHE, PSYCHOLOGIST: Very, very often. They're all very common. I must say that one thing that has been missing from this discussion is what torture really is in places where it's happening right as we speak or in places like we talked before, under Saddam and so on. And really, we all, we've been discussing this and we came to the conclusion, it's not a good interrogation tool. What torture really is is a tool of social control. And totalitarian regimes use it to essentially affect people that are suspects and terrorise the population into preventing themselves from doing things. So essentially, it's internalising terror, it's really a state of reason, and I think it has tremendous affects both on the people that are tortured, on the people that are doing the torturing and on the societies that condone.

JENNY BROCKIE: Sandy Levinson, what do you think listening to this? Because it has been a very theoretical discussion, it's been up to the point where we met Naldo, and now suddenly it is real. Does that - is that what we need to remind ourselves, in a sense, that this is about real people we're talking about here, whether we think they're terrorists or not?

PROF. SANFORD LEVINSON: Oh sure, I think that's uncontroversial. There's one other thing I'd want to say, though - as a lawyer - which is that, unfortunately even if one concedes the premise which every decent person does that torture is awful, and if you concede the premise as Professor Gaultier, I believe it is, says that torture should be absolutely ruled out in any and all circumstances, that would still require us to have very grim and unhappy discussions about what counts as torture. That is, one of your speakers before mentioned cruel, inhuman and degrading methods of interrogation which, at least two courts have held, does not count as torture, though, as your speaker pointed out, they are thought to be banned. But what about what some lawyers or other people call "highly coercive methods of interrogation," that the whole subject of interrogation is very difficult to talk about because, even if you say no torture never ever, you still have to have a discussion of well, what kinds of techniques are you allowed to use and how close can you come to the banned and still be within a realm either of the law on the one hand or simply viewed as a moral individual on the other.

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