Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Student Blog #4: An Unexpected Combination: torture tactics and celebrity worship

Earlier this week, an article appeared on The Independent United Kingdom with the headline “If Amal Clooney wins the 'Hooded Man' case, the embarrassment for the UK would be huge” and featured a large photo of a very stern and intimidating looking Amal Clooney. This article is about the case of the Irish “hooded men” who state that they were tortured 1971 by authorities in a British Army camp. As someone going to law school in the fall, the article peaked my interest and left me with two interesting takeaways.
First, regardless of the outcome of this particular case, it is very important for a number of reasons. The decision will further define what is considered ‘torture’ and what is considered ‘inhuman and degrading treatment’ in international law. There is currently a large grey area between the two legal concepts and the more that cases like this call for a distinction, the more precedent is set for the future. A clearer definition of torture will not abolish it all together – it very well could push it further into hiding – but it would still force lawmakers to be explicit and not rely on legal or political grey area to avoid prosecution.
If the legal team representing the surviving men are successful, it will also have grave implications for the UK. Proving the British government lied in the court of law and engaged in torture tactics against Irish citizens will not bode well for what has historically been a turbulent relationship. Any discussion around torture tactics calls into question notions of the common good and whether or not there can be a version of it that allows the blatant disregard for basic human rights. Further, if torture tactics were considered to me permissible within the common good, would the governments be nervous to be associated with these types of actions?
Finally, as a sociology major, I found the framing of this article to be particularly interesting. Amal Clooney is an incredibly successful human rights lawyer that anyone living a privileged life likely has not heard of. Yet, she became known in the media when she married Hollywood actor George Clooney. Suddenly, everything she does makes headlines. This is not necessarily a bad thing – she is doing amazing work and deserves airtime over some other things I see regularly – but it is an interesting change. It invokes many commentaries on our society, from celebrity worship to the fact that a successful woman did not receive wide public recognition until she married a famous man. Even this specific legal case – which has been in the works for some time – did not receive wide media attention in North America until Amal Clooney joined the legal team. More importantly, in the article she was constantly referred to as “Amal Clooney and the rest of the hooded men’s legal team” as if she has been leading it since the beginning.  Based on her celebrity, she has become the figurehead of this case, despite only recently joining the legal team. Why was the article photo not of the men at the center of the case? Would this article have reached me in Canada before Amal Alamuddin became Amal Clooney? It is hard to say. What is important is to consider these socially constructed undertones in the media and keep what is important at the centre of our analysis: striving for a better understanding of the common good and ensuring justice for those people victimized by the state.

-Justine Shenher

1 comment:

  1. This is a really great analysis of what's present and what's absent in media. Thanks for the insight!


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