The most remarkable thing about the US Senate Intelligence Committee Report is that it was published at all – a reproach incidentally, to the secrecy in which British politicians swathe MI6. Two of the Report’s findings will make a permanent contribution to anti-terror discourse: the fact that torture never produces crucial intelligence and the fact that intelligence agencies lie bare-facedly to their media acolytes, to the public and even on oath.
There is, of course, disappointment that most of the Report has been redacted – including details of British connivance and participation in the CIA torture programme. There is regret that President Obama has declined to prosecute those lawyers and operatives who broke the law during the Bush years. But his determination to at least to have US brutality exposed and renounced will be a defining legacy of his presidency.
Many of the torture techniques we know from revelations during his first term – the water-boarding, the euphemisms: “exploiting individual phobias” means setting Alsatians to sniff the genitals of suspects; “adjusting temperature” means subjecting them to sub-zero freezing; “dietary manipulation” means temporary starvation and so on. Now the Report informs us that these techniques were often “far more brutal” than hitherto admitted. For example, “stress positions” could mean hanging a suspect in shackles for 180 hours. They were designed to cause physical and mental harm and the White House’s lickspittle lawyers twisted the law so that their clients could be told what they wanted to hear, i.e. that this was not torture, merely “degrading treatment”. Regrettably, these lawyers will not be prosecuted, as they should be, for aiding and abetting torture. Morally, the buck stops with Bush and Rumsfeld, although the only verdict they will face is that of history. The Senate Report makes a “guilty” verdict even more likely.
The great importance of the Report is to refute the claim, made or believed by every torturer, that brutality “gets results”. The Report states authoritatively that at no time did “coercive interrogation techniques” help to expose imminent threats or achieve successes and that the CIA has incorrigibly lied about this (and is still lying, to judge from its reaction to the Report).
These findings hit the torture lobby where it hurts. No longer can it trot out the unreal “ticking time bomb” hypothetical – fanatics who know where the bomb is hidden stay silent because they welcome death as martyrdom, whilst those who are pain-wracked supply false information which distracts the police while time ticks away. Interrogators always do better by offering money, or freedom – one of the most important leads to Bin Laden was elicited by offering a cup of tea.
The exposure of how spooks regularly lie also repays study: where the CIA leads, MI6 usually follows, although political cowardice in Britain generally allows our intelligence services to stay silent. Certainly, among the 5,500 unpublished pages in this Report, will be found details of MI6 collaboration in CIA torture. They are unpublished because the British government has invoked a protocol that allies must not spill each other’s secrets. Mr Cameron, if he shares the gumption and integrity displayed by President Obama, should call for these redacted passages and publish them. Britain, too, should publicly reject conduct up with which we should not put.
Geoffrey Robertson QC is author of “Crimes Against Humanity: The Struggle For Global Justice” (Penguin)
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