On Torture and Terrorism

On Torture

Amnesty International launched an international campaign on torture in 2000 focused on three major areas: preventing torture, confronting discrimination, and overcoming impunity. Each goal had into subcomponents with critical parts to fulfill. Each national section determined its own specific campaign strategy. In the U.S., the campaign focused on policy (such as pushing for funding a particular bill and encouraging President Clinton to sign International Criminal Court treaty), on corporations (such as Taser, vendors of electroshock weapons), and on prisoner case work.

Amnesty’s International Secretariat in London created the campaign Web site http://www.stoptorture.org. John Lannon provides a brief summary of electronic campaign activities connected to this site:

The Campaign to Stop Torture used the Internet for two purposes; firstly to try to extend the protection of international scrutiny to a wide number of potential victims, and secondly to provide the public with more opportunities for action. [At www.stoptorture.org] the public could register to receive the latest appeal cases by email or mobile phone text message anywhere in the world. By replying via email or mobile phone they were then included in an online petition, and a pre-written email was sent immediately to the relevant authorities. Those who registered were offered screensavers and other freeware, and website visitors were encouraged to send postcards to friends telling them about the campaign. The Stop Torture website also provided visitors with the latest campaign information, and Amnesty reports and publications were made available in English, Arabic, Spanish and French.

Lannon attributes the “high level of support amongst those who subscribed” partly to the fact that “it enabled individuals to act politically without organizational affiliations.”

During the 12 month period up to 8 October 2001, a total of 32,791 subscribers from 188 countries registered on Stoptorture.org. The countries with the highest numbers of subscribers were the US (18.4 percent of the total), UK (14.8 percent), Canada (6.8 percent), France (6.6 percent) and Australia (5.8 percent). Interestingly, with the exception of France, these were the countries with the highest English-speaking Amnesty membership at the time; although the actions themselves were available in French and Spanish, the site navigation, instructions and registration were only in English, and this may have had an impact on who subscribed. Over 4,000 subscribers also opted to receive the action alerts by SMS text message....

While Amnesty’s existing membership base was crucial to the success of Stoptorture.org, a survey of over 700 subscribers indicated that 36 percent were not involved with the organization prior to signing up.

The first month of 2005 saw several campaigning organizations circulating electronic action alerts challenging the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as President Bush’s nominee for U.S. Attorney General.

The initial round of actions called on the Senate to challenge Gonzales’s relationship to the administration’s policy and memoranda on the use of torture. However, since the hearing a handful of groups actively opposed the Gonzales’s approval blasting email alerts encouraging supporters to vote against Gonzales.

Bloggers are also organizing. As of January 28, 2004, 487 weblogs have signed on to the Daily Kos Statement Opposing the Confirmation of Alberto Gonzales. Comments to the statement provided contact information for Congress officials and updates on the Judiciary Committe vote. Blogger Walker Willingham produced a series of downloadble flyers customized with Senate contact info for each state.

Chelsea Green Publishing offered free copies of the book Guantanamo: What the World Should Know to all blogs who join the call to vote “no” on Gonzales. Dimpled Chad Productions offered free copies of the music parody CD "American Way" by Dimpled Chad and the Disenfranchised.

In conjunction with their email lobbying campaign, Human Rights First launched a Flash movie about Gonzales. MoveOn also raised funds to air a televsion ad.

The effort seems to have had some impact. Prior to the Senate Judiciary hearings, not a single Senator seemed prepared to vote against Gonzales. But the final vote was 10-8, with all Democrats voting against, including those who had previously and publicly indicated a likelihood of voting for him. All Republicans voted in favor.

On other fronts, the ACLU is pursuing a strategy of litigation seeking information about detainees held by the United States. While there is little the public can do to participate in this strategy (beyond financial support), the ACLU has posted over 600 documents acquired under the Freedom of Information Act. These have become a primary source of information about the Bush administration’s policies. The documents have been used by other NGOs and the media.

On Terrorism

“The dynamics of insurgencies are fairly similar. These are political wars. There is no military victory that is completely isolated from a political victory. It’s all politics in the end. In order to win a guerilla war you have to acquire the trust of the population. The U.S. so far has not had that in Iraq, and it was the same in El Salvador. That insurgency was able to last for a very long time and the war was ended not by a military solution but by a political one.” [source]

Terrorism is generally targeted against one population to influence them or a governing elite for the benefit of another population. Because of the highly politicized nature of terrorism, traditional NGO advocacy techniques and tools of persuasion may not apply.

Some terrorist organizations have used the Internet to coordinate decentralized activities or to promote their cause and point of view. Terrorism may be motivated by economic, religious, cultural, personal, or political concerns.

The reaction of most militaries and governments is one of force, attempting to suppress and destroy organizations accused of terrorism cutting of their means of communication and finance. Non-state actors may attempt to bring economic pressure on parties through, say, legislation or divestment. A third strategy would push for opening alternative, non-violent political avenues of expression.

Each of these strategies have online counterparts.

Elkarri was founded in 1992 as an organization and social movement promoting dialogue and a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the Basque Country. It is currently conducting an outreach campaign to generate support for its 2005 Peace Conference. The group is relaunching its Elkarri’s Web site to be an integral channel of participation.

In addition to publishing their own research, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information collects and publishes online publications, campaigns, reports, and statements of the various human rights organizations in English and Arabic. HRinfo sees itself not only a means of exchanging information, but also a place to archive that information so that it remains available to Arabic readers in any part of the world. The organizers hope to strengthen civil society by creating a widely accessible body of knowledge that does not exist elsewhere in Arabic online, forging a secular, legal framework with which to address grievances.

Just Vision is an multimedia project telling the stories of non-violent Israeli and Palestinian civilians working collaboratively for peace across the Green Line. The Web site current features the 16 profiles in English, but will expand to a total of 180 profiles translated into English, Hebrew, and Arabic. The project is also producing a feature-length documentary focusing on four projects. The stories from interviews with individuals on both sides of the conflict who have lost loved ones. Every aspect of the production is also collaborative: the staff, production team, and advisory board include Palestinians, Israelis, and North Americans. The release of the film will be accompanied by a classroom discussion guide as well as the launch of an activist email network. (Full disclosure: I helped design and program the Web site.)

And finally, the Web can facilitate the processes of truth, justice, and reconciliation.

Desaparecidos.org is an online memorial to the some of the 30,000 people who were “disappeared” in Argentina during the “dirty war”.

A Web site established by Bishop Desmond Tutu's Truth & Reconciliation Commission in 1998 http://www.truth.org.za/ accepted confessions and apologies from white South Africans online.

Another type of campaign could facilitate free and widespread access to legal information, including legislation, and court judgments. [more] Human Rights Watch has published resources on how NGOs can contribute to the prosecution of war criminals at the International Criminal Court, as well as a topical digest of the case law of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Last modified on January 19, 2006 03:32 PM

Additional Resources


Please sign the Petition on abuse and torture in American Prisons & Pass it on to others...

Sherry Swiney
Director, P.A.T.R.I.C.K. Crusade
"People Aligned To Replace Injustice & Cruelty with Knowledge"

Posted by: Sherry Swiney at February 17, 2005 09:17 AM