Last week we heard much about the US Senate report on torture after 9/11. So now we know. The CIA and its co-conspirators beat up, waterboarded, sexually threatened, assaulted and terrorised Muslims in the Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan, everywhere. Senators finally admit that what the agency did was degrading and wrong. But, as the admissions swelled up and grandiloquent statements were made by American leaders, many of us sensed the tremor of fakery and smelled the whiff of insincerity. There was too much patriotic bombast, too little honesty.
How can the CIA be held up as the only villains when most Americans thought God had okayed limitless, guiltless revenge for the 9/11 attacks? George W Bush and his neocon freemasonry encouraged and exploited national paranoia and exceptionalism. In their book of modern protocol, the US was not accountable, did not have to respect international treaties, had the right to slay whoever and wherever in the world.
And all the while they take refuge in delusions, play the muzak of high virtue and ethicality.
Even the gung-ho Republican John McCain stood on the Senate floor and condemned the CIA: “[These actions] have damaged our security interests as well as our reputation as a force for good in this world. [We] believe that even captured enemies possess basic human rights.”
Democrat Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the investigating committee, and President Obama have also invoked the idea of great, unimpeachable America. Like an intense preacher at a pulpit, Barack Obama intoned: “That is not who we are.” With due respect, sir, what has just been revealed is not an aberration of the American ideal, but its reality. Fine words cannot cover up the tracks as once they could. Yes, I, too, believed in the US once. Wanted to live there, follow the dream. By the 1980s, I knew the dream was just that, unreal imaginings. American excellence in science, literature, films, its anti-corruption laws and fine institutions, is unsurpassed. So, too, some of the brave dissenters. But the moral rot and deep hypocrisy, always part of the story, are more visible these days.
Basic human rights? Oh, I didn’t know they were that fundamental and integral to the nation’s sense of itself. It would be (welcome) news to those millions of impoverished Americans who end up in prison for most of their lives. Or the families of the many executed by the state, some of whom were innocent and couldn’t afford to get good legal services. On state murders, the US stands with China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Millions of Americans have no value, no rights, no say, no futures. Guantanamo Bay is still open, still grinding down the will of its inmates.
If the US is delusional and duplicitous, the UK is even more so. Our involvement in torture is still un-investigated. Tory, Lib Dem and Labour MPs in the Privy Council know many of the state’s dirty deeds; so do New Labour ex-ministers. Theresa May and others have been talking to the US secret agencies. This must be the 20th time I have asked: whatever happened to the Chilcot inquiry? Citizens by now should be wary of any state-directed inquiry. The establishment pulls together because all agree that extreme confidentiality maketh the nation invincible.
CIA torture report: The 10 most harrowing stories
CIA torture report: The 10 most harrowing stories
1/10 CIA torture report
1. Of the 119 CIA detainees, 26 should not have been apprehended. Among them was Abu Hudhaifa, who was “subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation” before the CIA discovered that he was probably “not the person he was believed to be.”
2/10 CIA torture report
2. President Bush received his first briefing on enhanced interrogation techniques in 2006, about four years after the programme started. According to CIA records, Bush expressed discomfort with an image of a detainee “chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper.”
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3. The CIA used rectal feeding and rectal rehydration on at least five detainees. Even though detainee Majid Khan was cooperating with feedings, for example, the CIA subjected him to “involuntary rectal feeding and rectal hydration” and would puree his lunch tray, which was then “rectally infused.”
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4. CIA interrogators threatened to harm the family members of at least three detainees. In one case, a detainee was told that his mother's throat would be cut.
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5. The CIA apprehended two foreigners working for a “partner government” allied with the agency. They were subjected to sleep deprivation and dietary manipulation. The two detainees were trying to give the CIA information on possible future al-Qaeda attacks. It took them months to get released.
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6. Abu Zubaida, the CIA's first detainee, spent 266 hours in a coffin-size confinement box. Zubaida, who was born Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, often “cried, begged, pleaded, and whimpered” and was told that the only way he would leave the facility was in the coffin-shaped box.
7/10 CIA torture report
7. When Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times, tried to breathe during the procedure, interrogators held his lips and poured water over his mouth.
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8. The Senate committee found a photo of what looked like a well-used waterboarding station at a site where there was no reported use of the technique. The CIA could not explain the presence of the waterboard.
9/10 CIA torture report
9. Of the at least 26 detainees who were wrongfully held, one was “intellectually challenged.” Interrogators taped this detainee crying and used it as leverage against one of his relatives.
10/10 CIA torture report
CIA officers would “strip a detainee naked, shackle him in the standing position for up to 72 hours, and douse [him] repeatedly with cold water.”
At the recent Liberty awards in London, American Laura Poitras was given an award for her documentary film Citizenfour, on national surveillance. Her previous films were on the US treatment of Iraqis during the occupation and Yemenis caught up in the war on terror. She didn’t attend because her lawyers had warned her she could be detained under our anti-terrorism laws. In her recorded speech, she said the UK was worse than the US when it came to spying, secrecy and illegitimate control. Most of our people still like to believe that the rule of law is sacrosanct and that this is a land of the free. Our leaders – Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, William Hague – without a blush proclaim Great Britain as an exemplary democracy where every man and woman has fundamental, incontrovertible rights. Not true, of course, but it sounds good. The police abuse their power, people are detained without knowing the charges against them, our governments have been complicit in torture and indiscriminate killings. Come on, you men and women of power, ’fess up to what you have led us to.
Now, before the trolls kick up their weekly storm, let me also say that the Muslim nations and their leading voices are the most deceitful of the lot. The Senate report had them hyperventilating, yet torture is rife in every Muslim nation. Many happily signed up as contract torturers for the Western allies. There is no safety, no respect for human rights in any of those places. But at least they do not claim to be the upholders of democracy and human dignity. That doesn’t make them any better than the United States or the UK. Just a tad less imperious and delusive.