One should never become too blasé to react to yet another formal confirmation of the use of torture by agents of the government of the United States of America.
It is nevertheless necessary to concede that there are some positive aspects to the story surrounding the release of the report of the U.S.A.’s Senate Intelligence Committee on the use of torture by the CIA in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Let us recognize three of those.
Some degree of public accountability has been achieved from the fact the report has seen the light of day for scrutiny by citizens of the U.S. and of the rest of the world.
Second, in that fiercely partisan country, at least one Republican, Sen. John McCain, has had the decency and courage to call a dirty spade a very dirty spade.
Then there is the fact that the government of President Barack Obama and the Democratic chairperson of the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, recognized the ethical implications of the gruesome acts of torture. In the latter’s words, the findings represent a “stain on our country and our values”.
No such concessions were forthcoming from the Republican mainstream or from the past or current heads of the CIA. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel condemned the report as being “ideologically motivated” and as serving “no other purpose than to significantly endanger Americans around the world”.
Michael Hayden, director of the CIA at the time of the torture (under then-president George W. Bush), added salt to the wound by a blatant distortion of the facts. Contradicting the widely confirmed findings of the report, he asserted: “This program, the enhanced interrogation program, saved lives, disrupted plots against the West and deepened our knowledge.”
That convoluted reasoning is tantamount to saying that, in this case, the end more than justifies the means: in order to safeguard American interests, one must sacrifice the interests of others by violating the law, the principle of justice and the human rights of the persons “detained”.
Another fundamental issue that arises in the story is the need to put an end to the decades of impunity enjoyed by the CIA. On this specific point, it is simply unacceptable for Obama to adopt a position of reflection, not retribution, and therefore to shield U.S. intelligence operations from criminal consequences. Accountability is too important a requirement of democratic governance for the CIA to be allowed to function both outside the law and above the law.
And this brings us to their breach of the other facet of accountability: the duty to provide factual, reliable and complete reports, analysis and advice to their superiors. The report found that, in their submissions to Congress and to the government of the day, the intelligence community knowingly understated and misrepresented the full realities of their operations, especially the negative aspects.
The report provided details of their participation and complicity in the extra-legal practice of “rendition”, which involved detaining, transporting and interrogating alleged “terrorists” outside of the U.S.A. and outside of the confines of law and of human rights, sometimes resorting to torture to extract information.
Once again, we are faced with the shame, the scandal and the criminal realities of a country which sees itself as a paragon of virtue and which never ceases to condemn other countries for their perceived lack of respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.