CIA interrogations indicate double standards on human rights

US Senate committee brings torture to account


The publication by the US Senate intelligence committee of its devastating 525-page report on the post- 9/11 CIA torture of detainees raises profound and damaging questions for the US domestically and abroad. US citizens and allies alike will be asking hard questions not only about the ethics, and what the report found to be the utter ineffectiveness of “enhanced interrogation”, but also the nature of its democracy and the extent to which an ally’s word can be relied on.

Critically, in the wake also of Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA communication intercepts, questions about the extent to which the security services, that some see as the “deep state”, can act without accountability to elected officials and actually systematically manipulate them. Even conservatives will also be perturbed by the agency’s outsourcing to a private company of the bulk of the brutal interrogation programme.

Those hostile to the US have challenged US “double standards” on human rights, and will use the revelations both as a recruiting tool and to justify their own abuses. That reality was testified to by Republican Senator John McCain, tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, who broke ranks with most of his party to deliver a powerful condemnation of torture.

The New York Times rightly describes the graphic report as a “a portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend and even harder to stomach” while the foreign minister of key ally, Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier has spoken of a “crass violation of free and democratic values”.

And the committee’s chair, Senator Dianne Feinstein, makes clear that what the report alleges are not just immoral, but clearly indictable offences against international and US law. “While the Office of Legal Counsel found otherwise between 2002 and 2007,” she writes, “ it is my personal conclusion that, under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured.” Regrettably the report’s authors and the White House have so far balked at urging prosecutions of those implicated directly or indirectly.

The report’s findings that the CIA repeatedly misled Congress and the White House about the severity of the techniques and their product – “at no time”, the report says, did the torture programme produce intelligence that averted a terrorism threat – while it obstructed investigations, not least by the committee, must call into question the positions of the agency’s entire leadership. President Obama, to his credit, banned “enhanced interrogation” when he took office, but has continued to back CIA director John Brennan who, like the agency’s previous directors, insists agents were doing their job within the law and such techniques did produce results. But prevarication on those issues by Obama will only cast doubt on his denunciation of the CIA’s behaviour.