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Whitewashing CIA torture

Dec 16,2014 - Last updated at Dec 16,2014

The logic that torture is a “stain” on US history is the heart of the problem, since it blocks an honest reading of whatever “values” Washington actually stands for.

“This is not who we are. This is not how we operate,” said President Barack Obama commenting on the grisly findings of a long-awaited congressional report on the use of torture by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

But what if this is exactly who we are?

The report is difficult to read, not just because it is awfully long — hundreds of pages of a summary of a nearly 6,000-page investigation, including 38,000 citations based on the review of 6 million pages — but also because it is most disturbing.

Parts of it resemble the horror of an extremely dark Hollywood movie. But it was all real: from rectal feeding (as in putting hummus in detainees’ rectums), to rape, to torturing prisoners to death, to blinding prisoners, to forcing them to stand on broken feet, for days... It is beyond ghastly.

It is also useless. Worse, it strongly believes that the torture dungeons, many of which were outsourced to other countries, including 25 in Europe, including the democratic, human rights-touting Britain, achieved little but fabricated information.

What else can an innocent man say when he has nothing to say, but lie, hoping that maybe such lies would save his life?

Of course, ageing accused war criminals like former vice president Dick Cheney were quick to dismiss the report and its detailed brutal interrogation tactics as “full of crap”.

Without a shred of remorse, he told Fox News Channel on December 10, a day after the report was released: “What happened here was that we asked the agency to go take steps and put in place programmes that were designed to catch the bastards who killed 3,000 of us on September 11 and make sure it never happened again, and that’s exactly what they did.”

It matters little that these “steps” killed innocent people, violated US and international laws and, equally important, led to nothing but confessions under duress.

Cheney’s complete disregard for human rights and international law is not the exception, but very much defines the US attitude towards seemingly unimportant matters as law and due process in its most destructive so-called war on terror.

Cheney’s attitude was echoed repeatedly by many others, who insist on the US’ moral superiority without providing a shred of evidence to validate such an assertion.

Although one is relieved that the truth was, at least partly, laid bare, thanks to the persistent efforts of the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the resulting discourse is still disturbing.

Aside from the fact that top officials insist that there will be no prosecution for the war criminals, Obama’ and others’ language promises little soul searching ahead.

“This is not who we are,” said Obama.

Yet, John O. Brennan, CIA director, still defended the agency’s use of the brutal tactics in American gulags, “sidestepping questions about whether agency operatives tortured anyone”, according to The New York Times.

“This is not how we operate,” Obama said.

But how do “we” exactly operate when the report was the outcome of 6 million documents?

There can no longer be a “few bad apples” argument made here, as the horrors of Abu Ghraib were once justified.

These practices were carried out for years. They involved much personnel. Numerous prisons. Many countries, including almost all Europe, and some of the biggest human rights violators on Earth, including Middle Eastern and African countries.

It was financed by a mammoth budget, and continues to be defended brazenly by those who ordered them, who are unlikely to see their day in court.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein was adamant in her rejection of CIA torture.

The programme was “morally, legally and administratively misguided [and] far more brutal than people were led to believe”, she told the Senate.

Fair enough. But then, this torture programme is “a stain on our values and on our history”.

There is this stubborn insistence on highlighting the same kind of moral superiority, contrary to all evidence.

But isn’t the entire so-called war on terror and the continued American military involvement in the Middle East, the lethal unmanned drone programme, which has killed thousands, the unconditional support for Israel and all sorts of oppressive regimes, and much more, “morally, legally and administratively misguided”?

Between Cheney’s bullying attitude and Obama’s/Feinstein’s, which claims that the massive outsourced programme is merely a “stain” on otherwise perfect American values, the report is unlikely to change much.

Justice is unlikely to be served.

There can be no serious rethink and moral awakening without talking full responsibility, not just for the vile torture tactics, but for the entirety of the US’ misguided foreign policy which is predicated on violence, and lots of it.

“I will leave to others how they might want to label these activities,” Brennan said.

The report indicated that detainees were tortured before they were even asked to cooperate. How does one label that?

Even by the logic of those who torture, such tactics are senseless.

Should some insist on the old, tired “few bad apples” argument, the report indicated that in “Detention Site Green” CIA interrogators objected to the continued use of torture before they were told to carry on by their seniors.

No few bad apples. The whole barrel is rotten.

There can be no justification for what the US has done in its global wars, not just against suspects, but against entire nations that were completely innocent of any involvement in the terror attacks on September 11, prior or after that date.

CIA torture being a “stain” on an otherwise flawless record does not suffice either. 

Equally worrying is the existing mindset in the US, among the ruling class and the media.

This reality can be best summarised in the words of a Fox News show co-host, Andrea Tantaros: “The United States of America is awesome, we are awesome,” she exclaimed.

“The reason they want to have this discussion is not to show how awesome we are. This administration wants to have this discussion to show us how we’re not awesome.”

With such overriding thoughtless mindset, there is little evidence to show that such “awesomeness” will cease anytime soon, even if it will impose a heavy cost on many innocent people.

The writer is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author and the founder of His latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London). He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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