A day before International Human Rights Day, a long-delayed US Senate Intelligence Committee report on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) — or simply put, torture — on post-9/11 suspected “terrorists” held in “black sites” or secret detention sites hosted by certain US allies was finally made public. But only a 500-page redacted summary was released, with 6,000-plus pages of the complete report still classified on the grounds that these could compromise US national security.
While human rights groups are disappointed, the executive summary already says a mouthful about the extensive but ineffectual use of torture by the CIA during the administration of George W. Bush: how this was politically and legally justified in the context of the so-called war on terror; and how this criminal conspiracy that constitutes a violation of international law was subsequently covered up at the highest levels.
It has been called a landmark report because of its official authorship, the highly controversial subject matter, its revealing findings, and the politically explosive consequences for the United States.
The Senate committee undertook a five-and-a-half-year review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program conducted between 2002 and 2009. It was initiated in March 2009 based on a bipartisan vote of 14-1 when committee members incidentally discovered that videos of EITs used on two Al-Qaeda suspects were ordered destroyed by CIA officials. This raised a red flag as to what was being hidden from congressional oversight.
Combing through 6.3 million pages of official documents, the study revealed that after the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center, the CIA took charge of at least 119 suspected “terrorists,” some of them mistakenly or without sufficient grounds even by the CIA’s own standards, and then detained them indefinitely in secret sites outside the US. All were subjected not only to “coercive interrogation techniques” (apparently still legally justifiable) but to “enhanced interrogation techniques” that constituted torture.
These included not only the kinds already revealed in various leaks and lawsuits like waterboarding, staged mock executions and revved power drills near detainees’ heads. Detainees were also deprived of sleep for days, forced to strip naked, subjected to beatings while hooded, and made to stay in painful stress positions even though they were already injured. They were also subjected to extensive periods of sensory deprivation or were constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music. There were several cases of “rectal rehydration” for the purpose of demonstrating absolute control over the detainee. Aside from death threats, detainees were also told their children would be killed and their wives sexually assaulted.
The ordeal eventually caused severe and irreparable physical and psychological injuries up to the death of one detainee from hypothermia after he was made to lie on a concrete floor half-naked.
On the basis of the Senate report, Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, declared in a statement: “The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes.” Moreover he said, “The perpetrators may be prosecuted by any other country they may travel to…Torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction.”
And yet prospects are not bright for that accountability taking place. CIA officials, with US President Obama’s blessing, sought to prevent the report from coming out even as they undertook a campaign to distort and discredit its findings even before it was issued. The CIA has vigorously rejected the report since its release and continues to dispute one of its major findings: that torture did not produce good intelligence. The information extracted through torture was usually fabricated, not actionable, or could have been obtained using non-coercive means.
While much of the information revealed by the Senate report is new to the public, it is inconceivable that Washington was unaware of these. Attorney-General Eric Holder had conducted a detailed torture investigation during President Obama’s first term. Holder had decided not to prosecute anyone for the CIA’s torture because “the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”
As for President Obama, when asked about investigating CIA torture in 2009, he replied that “it’s important to look forward and not backward.” In fact, the only person the Obama administration has prosecuted in connection with the torture program is a man who revealed its existence to the media, former CIA official John Kiriakou. He was forced to plead guilty when threatened with decades of imprisonment and is now serving a 30-month jail sentence.
The Obama administration stands accused of other egregious violations of human rights with its spying, police brutality against African Americans and other people of color, and armed drone attacks leading to the loss of civilian lives in several countries that the US is not even at war with.
It is relevant to mention the US’ continued refusal to accede to the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC) that would open the door to the prosecution of war crimes, genocide and the crime of aggression.
But what the report doesn’t say is just as important. According to Professor Michel Chossudovsky of Global Research, “The terms ‘unethical’ and ‘immoral’ are mentioned [in the report]. The criminality of those who ordered these actions at the highest levels of government, however, is not acknowledged.” He asserts further: “The actions directed against alleged jihadists are categorized as ineffective in the process of revealing intelligence…What of course is not acknowledged is that the alleged terrorists who were tortured were framed by the CIA.”
And the biggest deception of all: “The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks provided the green light to wage a ‘global war on terrorism.’ While the report acknowledges CIA brutality, it does not question the legitimacy of the ‘global war on terrorism.’ The acts of torture were all for a good cause.”
The US Senate report can be used to expose the US as the world’s foremost terrorist state or, perversely, to refurbish US credibility as a bastion of democracy and defender of human rights. The findings must be brought to their logical if unintended conclusion: to expose and oppose US imperialist wars of aggression and intervention in the guise of “humanitarian wars”; unmask the continuing use of “terrorism” as justification for war crimes and crimes against humanity; rouse the world’s peoples to demand the trial and punishment of the perpetrators of CIA torture and all other gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the US government.
Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.
Published in Business World
December 14, 2014