Today the Senate released its report into one sphere of the criminal activities of the Bush administration. Under the leadership of the President, his Vice-President, Defense Secretary, and members of the national security and intelligence community, the United States developed and expanded a program of torture. This was a morally depraved covert program developed secretly. It compromised our values, proved useless in prosecuting the War of Terror, and has almost certainly generated more in the way of ill-will and security threats than it ever served the public interest.
With its penchant for performing one public disservice after another, much of the U.S. media has speculated about how the release of the report might upset people around the world and perhaps escalate the danger to U.S. interests abroad. The suggestion, according to this narrative (egged on by paragons of virtue like Dick Cheney), is that the public does not need to know about its government’s state terrorism and how its representatives were lied to and misled in order to prevent future problems.
Rather, the Senate should have engaged in a cover-up and allowed the terroristic CIA and the war criminals in the Bush administration to fade into the background. That is certainly what the CIA wanted. The rogue agency spied on and obstructed Senate access to documents related to its terrorism, and has colluded with the Obama administration (which practices its own form of state terror in the form of its mass murdering drone program) to suppress around 90% of the report released today.
I think it’s important to know how ineffective the torture program was. I think it’s important to know that the CIA (like the NSA) lied to the people charged with overseeing its activities. I think it’s important to know that some CIA officers objected in strenuous terms to the brutality they were asked to dish out, only to be slapped down by figures further up the food chain.
And I think it’s important to know that the barbarism of our government and its agents went beyond what it had ever admitted to in the past.
The New York Times reported that “CIA officials routinely misled the White House and Congress about the information it obtained, and failed to provide basic oversight of the secret prisons it established around the world”. In those prisons the CIA “used to torture and imprison terrorism suspects [note that these people had not been through any legal process]. Detainees were deprived of sleep for as long as a week, and were sometimes told that they would be killed while in American custody. With the approval of the CIA’s medical staff, some prisoners were subjected to medically unnecessary ‘rectal feeding’ or ‘rectal hydration’—a technique that the CIA’s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert ‘total control over the detainee’”.
The CIA lied about when, where, and to what extent waterboarding was used. And “some CIA officers were ‘to the point of tears and choking up’” while watching the brutal activity meted out in defense of “American values”.
The Times reported that “of the 119 detainees, ‘at least 26 were wrongfully held…[including] an ‘intellectually challenged’ man whose CIA detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information”.
CIA director John Brennan, an architect of much of the terrorism that defines our foreign policy, argued that the report was “incomplete and selective”. He is certainly correct inasmuch as his organization—in the long run a far greater threat to our democracy than any international terrorist organization—was permitted to kill the release of the entire report.
Revelations about the U.S. torture program are long overdue and represent only the tip of the iceberg if we are interested in examining the crimes of the Bush Administration. Top members of the administration, particularly the Vice-President, conspired to wage aggressive war by lying openly to the public about connections between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
That war killed hundreds of thousands of people and saw the privatization of sections of our national security apparatus, leading to massive war profiteering. It not only killed huge numbers of Iraqis, but destroyed the country’s infrastructure and institutions. It spread international terrorist organizations across the Middle East, generating threats to the United States and the wider international community.
No one has been held accountable for these war crimes and crimes against peace and humanity. And if the CIA and the current administration have their way, we will wring our hands for a few hours and then forget the violence and illegality of this torture program and the larger war of which it was a part.
According to the New York Times President Obama “welcomed the release of the report, but in a written statement made sure to praise the CIA employees as ‘patriots’ to whom ‘we owe a profound debt of gratitude’ for trying to protect the country. But in a later television interview, he reiterated that the techniques ‘constituted torture in my mind’ and were a betrayal of American values”.
I suppose we could expect no greater clarity from so morally compromised a President. As the public pleads with President Obama to address the systematic violence of domestic policing, and the pernicious role of racial profiling within that policing, the President runs his own program of terror that relies on profiling, only with more consistently lethal results.
Under Obama, the CIA uses a “disposition matrix” to murder people based on the statistical significance of their movements and appearance. We know that some 96% of the people murdered under this program had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, and that many murder victims had nothing to do with any militant organization.
People who authorize, perform, and protect torture and rendition and “disappearances” and extrajudicial killings—the features of our more than decade long War of Terror—are not “patriots” in any positive sense of the word. They are terrorists, by even the simplest dictionary definition. Like Al Qaeda, they are using violence for political purposes—albeit different purposes. Unlike Al Qaeda, they are using terror as a tool of the state that gives their activities a veneer of legality.
As deplorable as the actions of CIA officers who tortured might be—the fact that others objected to and rejected torture demonstrates that these officers do have moral agency—the real culprits are the architects of the national security apparatus which makes this kind of violent, shameful behavior imperative and acceptable.
If someone commits a murder in our society, or attacks other members of our society, we demand justice. While some might demand that justice for retributive purposes, the real reason is to remove a threat to society and demonstrate that as citizens we will not tolerate violent behavior.
And yet in this case, people who torture and murder and abduct other human beings—in violation of U.S. and international law—are permitted to walk free. Whether our current President, his predecessor, Dick Cheney, or Donald Rumsfeld, the fact that these criminals are granted impunity ensures that there will be no end to this counter-productive and immoral state violence. Future advocates or practitioners of state terror will take comfort from our failure to act.
We should not embolden such behavior, but rather pursue it with the full force of the law.