We know from repeated accounts of everyday existence at the refugee processing centres on Manus and Nauru islands that the detainees' lot there is a wretched one. Many appear to have been physically assaulted, to have self-harmed, or to manifested other forms of mental anguish. Probably most are afflicted by a malaise born of hopelessness regarding their immediate futures.
Such claims are not uncontested, however. The Nauru and Australian governments have both defended their administration of the camps (and the policy of "taking the sugar off the table" that led to their creation), while other observers sympathetic to that view have pointed out that many of the claims of physical and sexual assault have not been independently corroborated. The comparatively low number of official investigations launched by Nauru police tends to support claims that some of the abuse allegations have been exaggerated.
Which brings us to Amnesty International and the ABC's Four Corners program, which this week have chronicled further instances of abuse on Nauru.
In a damning report titled Island of Despair, Amnesty International has described the conditions on the tiny island as amounting to "torture", and accused the federal government of having deliberately drawn a veil of secrecy around abuses while wilfully and systematically ignoring its international human rights and asylum-seeker obligations.
The Four Corners report, using video footage smuggled out of Nauru, centred on the forgotten plight of refugee children. The program was based extensively on the testimony of three former staff members at a detention camp school run by Save the Children but also featured interviews of camp children recounting episodes that doubtless distressed many viewers.
Unsurprisingly, the federal and Nauruan government have rejected the claims – the latter suggesting the Four Corners report was misleading and inaccurate because it had not visited Nauru, had exaggerated the levels of violence on the island, and had coached the young talent. Malcolm Turnbull was no less forceful, suggesting Amnesty International's claims were "absolutely false" and that the government's "commitment is compassionate and it's strong".
Protestations about the ABC's "failure" to visit Nauru are preposterous given the inability of media to visit the island and its detention facility. That said, the Four Corners report lacked even-handedness, and indeed, Mr Turnbull alleged producers had declined an offer by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to be interviewed in regard to the allegations raised. A similarly tendentious approach can be discerned in the Amnesty International report.
Nonetheless, and despite Mr Turnbull's firm belief that his government's asylum-seeker policies are "compassionate", warehousing people on a remote island and offering them no way out is the very antithesis of compassion.
That Amnesty and other organisations have resorted to describing it as "torture" probably speaks of their frustration at the willingness of governments to allow it to continue. To liken confinement on Nauru to torture may be to over-egg the pudding. But it is certainly justifiable to describe the political reasoning for their incarceration as wicked.