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TOPIC: torture

FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

"Save Us From Nazis," Indoctrination Stamped On Student Letters To Russian Troops

In the Ukrainian city of Izium, Russian troops left behind more than destruction, mass graves and testimony of torture. After their hasty withdrawal in early September, Ukrainians found traces of the regime's propaganda indoctrinating school children.

IZIUM — We've spent the last few days in this strategically important city northeastern Ukraine, visiting some of the buildings used by the Russians as prisons and places of torture. One particular building in Izium had served as an administration center, which became a jail during the occupation. Today, it's been partly reduced to rubble.

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The presence of Russian troops is still visible on the military vehicles marked with “Z”, symbol of the “special military operation.” There are also the remains of soldiers' food rations, boots, uniforms, all abandoned before the Ukrainian counteroffensive liberated almost the entire Kharkiv region in just a few days.

But perhaps most interestingly, we found boxes full of the letters that Russian students of all grades had sent to their soldiers to keep their morale high.

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Why Brazil Is Excavating An Infamous Torture Center 40 Years Later

As the country gears up for a politically-charged run-off election, a team of archaeologists, historians and forensics experts are set to excavate the grounds and buildings of one of the worst torture centers in São Paulo, trying to recover the country's painful history of torture during the military regime.

In 1964, the Brazilian Armed Forces carried out a coup, with support from the United States government, and installed a dictatorship that lasted for over 20 years. Although free elections returned to the country in the 1980s and a new constitution was approved in 1988, Brazil has lagged other South American countries when it comes to reconciling itself with the aftermaths of the dictatorship.

Challenging the crimes of the military elites is portrayed as a “leftist” cause in Brazil. Right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro has even celebrated — on several occasions, including during the Congress session that voted to impeach former president Dilma Rousseff — the torture that was committed by the regime.

In contrast, countries like Argentina and Chile have made big strides in reckoning with their bloody past and prosecuting members of the military juntas.

SÂO PAULO — For the first time, an archaeological, historical and forensic project in Brazil intends to excavate the grounds and buildings of the former headquarters of a DOI-CODI (Department of Information Operations - Center for Internal Defense Operations), the much feared intelligence agency that carried out violent political repression during Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985).

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"Better If They Shot Me" — New Details Revealed Of Russian Torture Of Civilians

Testimonies have been gathered from victims who had been detained by the Russian military near Kyiv in the early weeks of the war. Some were held in a pit, others had their hands beaten with hammer, others with an axe and rifle butt. Some never made it out alive.

KYIV — In the early days of the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian military moved quickly to the outskirts of Kyiv and began conducting searches and arrests there. Residents of three settlements — Dymera, Kozarovichi, and Katyuzhanka — have recounted to human rights activists in recent months how they had been detained, beaten, and tortured during the occupation.

These testimonies have formed the basis of the report "Unlawful Confinement and Torture in Dymer, Kozarovychi, and Katyuzhanka in Ukraine," released together by three human rights organizations, the International Partnership for Human Rights, Truth Hounds, and Global Diligence.

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Russian-language media Vazhnyye Istorii reports some of the most heinous parts of the findings (the names of the victims have been changed).

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Putin Must Also Face The Gulag Question

Even while embroiled in the biggest foreign policy standoff of his reign, the Russian leader has been forced to acknowledge accusations of torture after leaked videos of violent abuse in prisons. Yet proposed new legislation to stem torture risks challenging a regime built on corruption and state-sponsored repression.


MOSCOW — The head of a bruised and battered prisoner hangs on his bare chest. A guard clad in camo-green lifts his knee into the half-living, half-dead face, as blood mixed with saliva and mucus drips onto the concrete floor. The prisoner’s hands are then chained, his bare legs thrust high into the air, and his horrifying screams announce the entrance of the long red pole that shall be used in unspeakable ways.

Such torture scenes must be from Russia’s Tsarist past. Or perhaps, the description comes from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1973 landmark book, The Gulag Archipelago, that first revealed details of the evil of Soviet forced labor camps?

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N.C. Asthana

Witness From The Inside: Finding The Source Of India's Police Violence

The Indian police force is built on a macho culture that promotes those who commit violence. Only the victims know the truth, and no one ever dares challenge the system.

Most Indians are familiar with heavy-handed police behavior in the form of the cops slapping people or, if they are pretending to manage law and order, beating them mercilessly with their sticks (lathis). However, the real face of police brutality often remains hidden, their notions about police torture derived largely from what they have seen in films. Only the victims know the truth.

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After Arab Spring, Tunisian Police Brutality Is Back

TUNIS — Six years ago, the Tunisian Revolution sparked the Arab Spring uprisings and overthrew the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his notoriously violent police state. Now a nascent democracy, Tunisia is once again faced with the issue of police brutality. Tunis-based daily Le Temps reports that several local and international NGOs have recently criticized police tactics, which authorities say is necessary to contain terrorist activity in the North African country.

At a recent conference organized by the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), activists argued that Tunisian police have carried out mass arbitrary arrests and used physical violence and torture in interrogations. New laws outlawing torture and providing defendants with lawyers have routinely gone ignored, and detainees are subject to long periods of detention without trial.

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Lizzie Porter and Mohammed Hassan al-Homsi

Worse Than Prison, The Life Of Syria’s Female Ex-Inmates

Women held in Syria’s government prisons report psychological abuse, sexual assault and torture. But for many, the suffering they experience after their release is even worse.

When Luna Watfa refused to reveal any information to her interrogators, they took her son, 17, and threatened to torture him. "They put my son's hands behind his back, his T-shirt over his head and they took him," she says.

Watfa, now 35, was a law student when the popular uprising broke out in Syria in March 2011. But when she witnessed President Bashar al-Assad's forces shooting at and beating protesters, she decided to devote herself to documenting what she saw. In January 2014, she was arrested on a Damascus street by a gang of men whom she quickly recognized as government officers. "There were three cars with 12 guards. They came only for me," she says over Skype from her new home in Koblenz, Germany.

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Cameron Tax Info, CIA On Waterboarding, Calling Shotgun


British Prime Minister David Cameron released information from his 2009-2015 tax returns yesterday in an attempt to defuse controversy about how he profited from his late father's offshore fund, The Independent reports. The details about the family's investment company were leaked last week in the so-called Panama Papers.

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Robert Christy*

Trump And Torture, Reflections Of A Good Soldier

The terrorists attacks in Brussels last week provided instant fodder for the U.S. presidential campaign. Republican front-runner Donald Trump had already boasted last month that he would order the U.S. military to "target the families of terrorists," also pledging to reinstitute waterboarding and "a whole lot more" as a tactic to extract information from terrorists.

With 35 innocent people dead in the Belgian capital, Trump wasted no time in doubling down on his support for torture, declaring in an interview that he would have used waterboarding to extract information from Salah Abdeslam, the suspect in November's Paris terror attacks who'd been arrested just four days before the Brussels attack.

"Frankly, waterboarding, if it was up to me, and if we change the laws or have the laws, waterboarding would be fine," Trump said. "We work within laws. They don't work within laws. They have no laws. The waterboarding would be fine and if they could expand the laws I would do a lot more than waterboarding."

Perhaps the most notable response to Trump's virulent pledges have come from Michael Hayden, the retired Air Force general and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. "If he Trump were to order that once in government, the American armed forces would refuse to act," Hayden said during an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher. "You're required not to follow an unlawful order. That would be in violation of all the international laws of armed conflict."

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Gen. Michael Hayden when he ran the CIA

There's only one problem with that statement: Soldiers almost always follow orders.

I know because I was a soldier once, a good soldier. I did as I was told.

When I enlisted at the age of 17, I was a high school dropout with few prospects other than the military. In 2005, at the height of the Iraq War, the Army was more than willing to give me a job fighting overseas. I knew nothing about international law or human rights.

The moment you enlist, you swear an oath to "obey the officers appointed over you." During basic training, the obligation to follow orders is physically and mentally drilled into you. No military tolerates dissent among its ranks. That's how armies have functioned for thousands of years. It's how they must function. Without discipline, an army becomes a rabble, easily defeated by a well-organized enemy.

When I failed to follow orders, it inevitably led to physical suffering or public humiliation.

An example of a minor infraction was when I neglected to get a haircut. My platoon had been in the field all week training, and I was frankly exhausted. But my platoon leader said, "I won't have any fucking Elvises in my platoon. Get it trimmed."

With every intention to get a haircut, I headed back to my barracks. Once I arrived, my roommate offered me a cold beer, and I happily accepted. One led to another, and then another. Before I knew it, the barbershop had closed for the day. I could've had a fellow soldier cut my hair in the barracks, but I decided to forgo it and enjoy the rest of my night. I could always get a haircut the next day.

Next morning's formation proved otherwise. I was dealt a quick and severe punishment by a dog-faced sergeant via "corrective training," which is a euphemism for punishment.

Throughout the day I was forced to perform various physical exercises meant to degrade me, such as crawling on all fours everywhere I went. To add insult to injury, the sergeant also shaved my head with a razor. Exhausted, humiliated and bald, I swore never to disobey another order.

I fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I arrested countless military-age males with no little or no cause. I happily turned over those prisoners to Iraqi and Afghan Army or police units, whom I knew routinely tortured and even executed their prisoners.

It wouldn't be a surprise if some of the "high-value targets" I assisted in capturing are now in Guantanamo, where they perpetually languish, without charge. I abused my authority, ransacking homes as I "searched" for contraband in Iraqi and Afghan houses.

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Scandal of U.S. military torture in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison — Source: Wikimedia Commons

My fellow soldiers and I are not sociopaths, and you wouldn't even consider us bad guys if you met us. We were just following orders. We're programmed from the first day of basic training that if a superior instructs you to jump, your only response will be, "how high?"

So, when that same platoon leader who told me to get a haircut told me to "tear this fucking house apart!" I did. I was a good soldier, they said.

Follow orders — get rewarded. Disobey — be punished. Worse than punishment, you'll be seen as weak. Speak out, and they'll call you snitch.

A more severe infraction, such as abandoning your guard post in Iraq, could warrant death by a military court martial. §890 of Article 6 (link) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) states: "Any person subject to this chapter who — (2) willfully disobeys a lawful command of his superior commissioned officer; shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct…"

The operative word in the section is "lawful." As long as what your superiors tell you to do is lawful, you are legally bound to follow orders. Your life may even depend on it.

Therefore, General Hayden is correct: Service members are not required to obey "unlawful" orders. The problem is they almost always do.

I'm thankful I was never ordered to torture a prisoner, because I would have done as I was told. If the military followed the illegal orders of one bad president, we would follow the orders of another. That's what good soldiers do.

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Dalia Rabie

Is Europe Fed Up With Abuses Of Sisi Regime In Egypt?

The torture killing of an Italian student in Cairo has prompted the European Parliament to cut military lead to Egypt. But the European leaders may not be able to make the break.

CAIROLast Thursday, 558 members of the European Parliament voted in favor of a non-binding resolution recommending the suspension of military aid and assistance to Egypt. The move comes in the wake of of the "abduction, savage torture and killing" of Italian doctoral student Giulio Regeni in Cairo.

The European Parliament emphasized Regeni's murder "is not an isolated accident," but took place in the context of an increase in unlawful practices in Egypt —reports of torture, forced disappearance and the deaths of detainees in police custody.

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Isabel Esterman

Shame And Cynicism, When An Italian Is Killed In Cairo

CAIRO — I did not know Giulio Regeni, but I could have. The earnest, affable face staring out of his photographs is reminiscent of any number of the trickle of European researchers and activists who pass through Cairo and want to meet in downtown dive bars to talk about the condition of the workers and the economy. There is the scantest degree of separation between his life in Cairo and mine, a thread of mutual acquaintances.

It goes without saying, I suppose, that his death has shaken me deeply.

To live in this city, in these times, requires the ability to metabolize a steady diet of poison. Like the immune system grows accustomed to drinking tainted water, the mind adapts to and normalizes ever-greater levels of horror — violence, torture, mass killings. It is astonishing what people can get used to.

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Juliana Gragnani and Matheus Magenta

Instagram Savagery, Courtesy Of Violent Brazilian Police

In Brazil, law enforcement officers boast on social network sites about committing violence against suspects, and show off the results for all to see.

SÃO PAULO — The personal social network profiles of some Brazilian police officers show a grim reality: too many of them subscribe to the philosophy that "a good criminal is a dead one."

Some feature photos of detained boys with whipped backs, while others show young offenders severely beaten at the hands of cops. Two videos even show police officers torturing young adults who have clown tattoos — a symbol known to be associated with the murder of police officers. One of them is being forced to scratch his tattoo off with sandpaper and alcohol if he doesn't want to be shot in the foot. The other video shows a youth having his tattoo scratched off of his back with a knife.

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