The moral bankruptcy of COIN in Africa

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Back in April, the US declared victory in Iraq. The ‘caliphate’ had fallen after losing swathes of territory to the US-backed Kurdish Forces. Since then ISIS has been expanding, claiming ‘responsibility for two attacks by militants in sub-Saharan Africa in less than 24 hours’ (The Guardian, 6th April). With China leading the way, international interests are also poised towards the continent; beginning with the business in arms that goes hand in hand with counter-insurgency efforts (COIN). The Economist talks about China ‘sell[ing] more weapons in sub-Saharan Africa than any other nation’, whilst the Intercept contemplates what is ‘perhaps the largest drone complex in the world’, built by the USA in Djibouti and Chabelley.

The cost of torture

The militarisation of the African continent is nothing new. What is of concern here is to what extent the counter-insurgency missions will reflect those in Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan. In traditional COIN efforts – led by the USA – torture and the detention of innocent civilians has been rampant, despite little evidence to suggest that this is a necessary way to gather information. That’s not to mention that torture is illegal under international law.

Nonetheless, conservative apologists would argue that in a hard knocks world torture is a necessary evil. Made excusable because, as the most efficient way to gather intelligence, it protects innocent lives from harm.

This is in contrast to neuroscientist Shane O’Mara, who explains that when the body is under severe stress ‘sufferers predictably produce information that is deeply unreliable—and, for intelligence purposes, even counterproductive’.

O’Mara’s research is backed up by the crawling proceedings of the 9/11 trial. Having undergone three years of enhanced interrogation techniques in CIA black sites, many of the 9/11 defendants suffer irreparable injuries, such as brain damage from simulated drowning.

Breaking international law for the ‘greater good’ is dubious.

Despite the scandal following these reports of abuse, Associate Press has found that the US-backed Saudi Coalition is using similar torture campaigns in Yemen. Breaking international law for the ‘greater good’ is dubious. Beyond the moral and ethical implications of subjecting any human to the system of rapes, beatings and forced confinement that leads to ‘learned helplessness’, what if preserving an international system that purports to respect human life and individual freedom is really for the greater good?

This is especially significant given the prospect that a system of torture has consequences that reach beyond the four walls of the prison. Civilian populations affected by torture or forced disappearing are more likely to join an organisation with extreme views, whilst individuals who have experienced torture can suffer physical and psychological trauma for the rest of their lives. Not to mention the torturers who can experience PTSD, which ultimately will affect their own communities. In short, torture brutalises everyone involved, and counter-insurgency efforts are no different.

War and suffering feel inevitable. But, still, power is shifting. International peace efforts would do better championing communication, development and sustainability, rather than the moral bankruptcy that has closely followed The War on Terror thus far.

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