The military and torture

2 12 2010

It is known that the military in Thailand is pretty much a law unto itself, despite Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s claims about the rule of law. Whatever regime is in power, the military has been able to abuse its position and power, murder and maim people with seeming impunity and torture people. It is surprising that the such abuses get so little mainstream media coverage.

That’s why PPT draws attention to a TIME magazine report on the south. Read the whole report. Some excerpts:

I recently visited … Pattani’s vast Ingkhayutthabariharn army camp…. The Thai army was keen to show our crew a human face. Lieut. General Pichet Visaijorn, then the regional commander, gave us a personal tour of his pet projects. They included free dental surgery for local people at his headquarters in Yala. We watched an army dentist fit an elderly Muslim with a set of false teeth…. Ingkhayutthabariharn, home to the military’s main detention and interrogation facility. It is called the Reconciliation Promotion Centre — an Orwellian touch, considering the camp’s notoriety. For Muslims, Ingkhayutthabariharn is a “terrifying word,” says Sunai Phasuk of New York City–based Human Rights Watch. “They know anything could happen to them in there.”

“Everyone was scared there,” a former inmate told us. The inmate said … he saw detainees beaten and plastic bags put over their heads to simulate suffocation. So many detainees have complained of torture in southern Thailand, and for so many years, that it is amazing the world hasn’t paid more attention. Abuses reported by detainees include severe beatings, electric shocks, forced nudity, exposure to extreme cold or heat, needles inserted into open wounds and holding detainees’ family members hostage — including, in one case, a 6-year-old boy.

The army has … has flat-out denied them [the claims]. “We have never committed torture,” Lieut. General Udomchai Thamsarorat, the regional commander, told me. “We’re here to help people, not hurt them.” Blanket denials don’t impress the experts. “The security forces continue to use torture even though senior commanders claim to have prohibited it,” the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in November.

[Local fears] seemed to barely register with the officers I spoke to. Lieut. General Udomchai said he was “100% confident” that his troops were winning Muslim hearts and minds. A civil affairs officer told me that local people “trust us more and more,” before explaining that Thailand was one big loving family in which Muslims were “naughty teenagers.”

Torture is illegal and morally repugnant. It’s also counterproductive: stories of abuse by security forces are potent recruiting tools for insurgents. Though torture is well proven to produce unreliable intelligence, the military still evidently regards it as an acceptable and effective weapon against a ruthless enemy. Sometimes, torture is used not to extract information but to exact revenge for murdered colleagues.

Who can hold the Thai military to account? Not the courts: an emergency law in southern Thailand grants the security forces immunity from prosecution. And not Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is beholden to the army for crushing the anti-government Red Shirt protests in May.

In January, Thailand’s insurgency will enter its eighth year. Peace doesn’t stand a chance until Thailand’s generals see torture for what it is: a cancer in their ranks. Want to win the hearts and minds of Muslims? Then investigate and prosecute the soldiers who abuse them. What people really want is justice, not free dentures.

This is a sorry tale can easily be expanded. Search PPT’s page for “torture” and there are several posts, some of them about the torture of red shirt detainees. The police do it too, and most “confessions” follow a beating.

These are the forces that were let off the leash following the 2006 coup. This is not to say that they didn’t do it before – think War on Drugs and Tak Bai – but the increased power they now hold means that the military and police can do just about anything they fancy. The military and police are vicious enforcers of their own interests which happen to coincide with those of the current regime and its establishment backers.



2 responses

7 12 2010
The culture of impunity | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] his observations about the way, for example, in Thailand, the police and military can torture and kill and get away free from any responsibility is amazing and tragic. He […]

7 08 2014
Should anyone believe the military? | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] In the south, the use of torture is routine. Not that long ago, this was reported from the south: […]

%d bloggers like this: