The report by the US Senate intelligence committee on CIA torture of detainees is shocking. Shocking because of the methods used, the scale of lies and deceit from a government agency, the extent of the grisly acts of torture. But to at least some of us this information is not exactly new. In the more than 13 years since the War on Terror began we have witnessed the detention without trial of thousands in Guantanamo Bay, the well documented abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, the rendition of prisoners to countries such as Libya, the accounts from whistleblowers such as Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.
But perhaps as shocking as the events themselves is the response that the report has received. The architect of the War on Terror, George W Bush, has launched a counter offensive against the report. Backed up by his former vice president, Dick Cheney, who describes the report as ‘a crock’, and by the array of right wing talk shows which the US is burdened with.
Their arguments can be summarised as follows: torture saved lives; publication of the report will cause further conflicts in the Middle East; these people hate us; what do you expect after the events of 9/11? That’s about it.
Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat senator who chairs the committee, tends to partially accept the last justification. Yet the torture was no more justified than the war itself, a response to the terrible killing of 3,000 people which succeeded in killing hundreds of thousands and laying waste the huge areas of south Asia and the Middle East.
Feinstein and the report find that no lives were saved as a result of the torture. It is almost certain that the existence of these methods has the opposite effect, prompting people to take up arms against the US or carry out terrorist acts. The idea that not publishing the report would help prevent unrest in the Middle East would be laughable if it did not display such a wilful ignorance and contempt for the people of the region. There is a very widespread awareness of what goes on, and it is one reason that the US has never come close to winning hearts and minds there.
What of our own government’s role in all of this? The redactions and omissions in the report ensure that this is not mentioned. Yet we know that the British base in Diego Garcia was used for rendition, as was Prestwick airport in Scotland, raising the obvious question of whether Labour ministers, including then Prime Minister Tony Blair and foreign secretary Jack Straw, were aware of this at the time. We know that detainee Binyam Mohammed said MI5 agents fed information and questions to his interrogators in the CIA.
The report names a military base in Poland used for torture as a ‘black site’, showing that the practice extended to the heart of the ‘new Europe’ as east European states were welcomed into the EU and Nato. There are many other countries suspected of containing such torture and rendition sites.
If all this were just history that would be bad enough. But war rages in Iraq and Syria, there is a new Cold War in eastern Europe, and the same people who urged intervention a decade or more ago are now filling the airwaves with justifications for torture and rendition.
Dianne Feinstein has claimed that torture does not reflect US values. Perhaps the really shocking thing is that it does.
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