- I was thrilled to see a photo in the New York Times
last week showing US troops guarding prisoners suspected of belonging
to al-Qaeda in Shibarghan, Afghanistan. The story that accompanied the
picture described how the 101st Airborne Division had been ordered to
relieve the Marine Corps in southern Afghanistan, paving the way for a
long-term military presence in the country.
- The photo also appeared in the Times here, but neither
paper mentioned the part of the photo that got me so excited as President
of the Humane Society for Putting Bags Over Suspects' Heads. The photograph
clearly showed that the prisoners suspected of belonging to al-Qaeda had
their arms pinioned behind them and had bags over their heads, secured
with metallic tape. We in HSPBOSH have been trying for years to get more
armies to put bags over the heads of anyone they suspect of anything.
For one thing, the placing of a bag over the heads of suspects protects
those of us who are not involved from unpleasant feelings of sympathy
for the prisoners. There is nothing more offensive to ordinary, law-abiding
newspaper-readers than seeing rows of sorry-looking peasants being herded
into the backs of cattle-trucks by our lads in the Army. The prisoners
often looked frightened, dejected and hungry, and how can anyone eat a
decent full breakfast over photos like that?
- Once a bag has been placed over their heads, however,
it is impossible to feel much for them. They cease to be human-beings and
as such make no unreasonable call upon our emotions. The placing of a bag
over the suspects' head also has another highly desirable effect: it makes
them all look guilty. One cannot see a man with a bag over his head without
feeling that he must have deserved it, and that anything he has got coming
to him is only what he ought to expect.
- The same probably goes for the person with the bag over
their head. I've never had it done to me personally, but I believe the
effect is very disorientating. A prisoner with the bag over his head ceases
to feel human as well as look it, and deprivation of sight, smell and
balance encourages him expect the worst.
- And this, of course, brings us to the economic argument
for putting heads in bags. Once a suspect has been trussed-up, had the
bag placed over their head, and been driven around in the back of a cattle
truck for a bit, they'll usually confess to anything. This saves a lot
of time, effort and - most importantly - money in trying to sort out terrorists
from ordinary blokes whom the Army has rounded up because they had unpleasant
beards and bad haircuts.
- This is one of the reasons why the British Government
was so keen on putting bags over the heads of IRA suspects in the early
1970s. It was very economically effective. Of course those spoilsports
at the European Court of Human Rights put a spanner in the works in 1978
when they outlawed the technique, claiming that it 'amounted to a practice
of inhuman and degrading treatment'. In other words they said it was a
form of torture.
- Luckily the US is not bound by any soft-centred decisions
of the European Court of Human Rights. In fact the US also needn't take
any notice of the United Nations Convention against Torture either, because
it was one of the few countries that had the sense not to sign the agreement
in 1985. Argentina, Belgium, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Dominican Republic,
Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal,
Senegal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay made the mistake of signing
it, and subsequently Venezuela, Luxembourg, Panama, Austria and even the
UK and Afghanistan joined in, but America didn't.
- Lucky for them. Now we can see how it's paying off. The
US Army can put bags over the heads of whoever they like. But what really
excited us at HSPBOSH was the fact that the editors of the New York Times
and the London Times could publish the photograph of Afghanistani suspects
with bags over their heads without making any comment at all.
- Let's hope this means that the British and American public
is finally ready to accept the fact that the only faces that matter are
British and American faces. These are the only 'people' who count now,
and - to be quite honest - the rest of the world might has well go around
with bags over their heads. Which is great news for all of us here at