It is no coincidence that shocking footage of child abuse in Australia’s Don Dale detention centre in Darwin has been likened to footage of Abu Ghraib in Iraq. The cruelty meted out in Australia’s detention centres is a form of torture facilitated by the private international security industry in complicity with governments and normalised by the War on Terror’s own torture record.

Australia’s detention centres are run by Wilson, Transfield, Serco and the Australasian Correctional Management. Serco is a multinational company, closely aligned with G4S, which relies heavily on its income from Australian immigration detention centres. Both Serco and G4S have close links to the Wackenhut Corporation, founded by ex-FBI agent George R. Wackenhut in 1954.

Many ex-CIA, FBI, and other government officials have worked in the upper levels of the company over the years. These companies are part of a globalised private security network which has been accused of multiple human rights violations. The abuse practiced within its centres of operation is painful to read about. For example, in a Serco detention centre, babies were confined to small metal containers, where they cannot learn to crawl or walk. 

Shockingly, this culture of abuse and violence is allowed to continue under the Australian government. In March last year, according to Human Rights Watch, UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, said that by failing to end the practice of detaining children, provide adequate detention conditions, and to put a stop to escalating violence in processing centers, Australia was in violation of the Convention against Torture. However, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott responded by stating that Australia was “sick of being lectured” by the UN.

Read more: Australia, another security state

Not only is this culture of violence systemic, but it is increasing. Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs told the ABC’s Q&A program that the footage is the manifestation of a “culture … of increased detention without trial” in the whole country. In response to her perceptions, she has been maligned by her own government.

How the War on Terror has normalised torture

The abuse at Don Dale is not an isolated incident. Australia’s detention centres for some time have been the subject of human rights abuse accusations and reports. But the abuse has continued and perpetrators remain unaccountable.

When torture goes unchecked and perpetrators are left unaccountable or at the very best simply wrapped over the knuckles by toothless enquiries and investigations, a culture of violence becomes acceptable. Whole industries made up of companies spring up around violence and misery, not to mitigate it, but to further it for a profit. These companies, by operating far from the public eye and without accountability to anyone but their shareholders, allow governments to continue discriminatory policies and inhumane practices without having to deal with the bad public relations that spin off from them.

When leaks such as that from Darwin do reach the media, then politicians wring their hands and make ‘horrified’ pronouncements, but the companies and their complicit government ministers escape unscathed. Add to this an inherent racist bias in the mainstream media and its compliant general public, and you have a recipe for zero accountability. Brown bodies become fair game.

We are familiar with this pattern of impunity. The War on Terror, too, has at its centre normalised torture. It is an accepted fact – even by the US President’s own admission – that ISIS has grown out of the invasion of Iraq and the torture of its upper leadership in US-run Iraqi prisons. The invasion of Iraq itself was built on false, tortured ‘confessions’, and ISIS acts of violence mirror the CIA’s own.

Unfortunately, the cycle of violence continues unabated. Two reports into CIA complicity in torture – one redacted 6000 page report which has been quickly buried, and another more recent report into the complicity of medical practitioners in the CIA torture programme – have still not yielded any accountability. This outrageous fact not only emboldens but it invigorates perpetrators of violence.

Read More: The Iraq war was born and raised in torture

When the world’s most powerful nation is allowed to torture unimpeded, then the global moral compass shifts to a level where it is acceptable and its perpetrators operate in an environment where they feel immune. This is why Australia’s government and detention centres will continue to operate unimpeded, bar from a few inconvenient PR hiccups. Because the United States and its allies do too.

It’s not just the environment that’s the same, the methods are too

A recent report in The Independent, quoted a paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics, in which ethicists Dr John-Paul Sanggaran, of the University of New South Wales, and Professor Deborah Zion, of Victoria University, wrote that guards at a detention centre on the island of Nauru claim that there were instances “of waterboarding, familiar to most as a torture technique that simulates drowning used by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in places like Guantanamo Bay”.

Prolonged periods of isolation have also been used as a method of punishment, similar to CIA methods in black sites around the world and in Guantanamo Bay. At Don Dale a 14-year-old boy was held in solitary confinement, just five days short of the worst solitary confinement period meted out at Guantanamo Bay – the procedures for meting out this sort of punishment, which is illegal under international law, are similar to Guantanamo Bay, as is the fluidity with which these rules appear to be treated by centre staff. 

What makes it worse, is that these punishments are meted out on immigrants – those fleeing war and persecution including women – and children, many of whom have ended up in these centres due to an already abusive childhood.

Such facilities, thanks to the very nature of their cultures, stand the very real risk of nurturing and breeding further violence. Immigrants and damaged children in Australia are simply not allowed the space to heal. Trauma is lumped upon trauma. The outcome can only be devastating for the individual and for society.

Read more: Guantanamo Bay: oxygen for the Islamic State

Moreover, if torture is normalised by the prevailing culture of impunity assured by the War on Terror and its discriminatory and violent legislation, the violence will grow until it eventually reaches us all. Certainly, by witnessing such acts, we are already affected. Only full accountability for the perpetrators of torture will be enough to halt the cycles of violence that continue to spin out of the War on Terror.


(CC image courtesy of David Stanley on flickr)

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)