Dec 17, 2014

Now You've Admitted Torture, Can We Please Have the Torturers for Trial!

On December 9, 2014, the US Senate released the executive summary of a report into the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program. The report, commonly known as the CIA Torture Report, acknowledges that the US CIA mounted a campaign of torture against terrorism suspects held in detention following the Sept 11, 2001 atttack on the World Trade Center. This program of torture was sanctioned at the highest levels of the US government and continued until at least 2006. The torture was carried out at  so-called  black sites, a network of some fifty secret prisons operated by the CIA outside US territory and legal jurisdiction. In many cases the torture victims were kidnapped and transferred to these black sites with the knowledge and cooperation of US allies.

The release of the report by the US Senate has provolked an international furore, with comment and outrage expressed all around the world. However, remarkably, the US has remained silent with regard to prosecution of those who authorised and implemented this systematic campaign of torture.  US President Barak ObamaPresident Obama, while distancing himself from the policies of his predecessor, George Bush, had prior to the release of this report declined to prosecute officials  involved in the US torture campaign. On the release of the report he incredibly sought to place America above other nations, saying:

"One of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better"

By contrast, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez,UN Special Rapporteur found considerable justification to castigate the US over its treatment of these prisoners. In a news release  issued in the wake of the Senate report he stated:

"...the example set by the United States on the use of torture has been a big draw-back in the fight against such practice in many other countries throughout the a nation that frequently calls for transparency and accountability in other countries, the United States must rise to meet the standards it has set both for itself and for others...the former administration aggressively and repeatedly rejected the principles of transparency and accountability and maintains the pattern of denial and defense."

The UN Special Rapporteur went on to call for investigation and prosecution of those responsible. This is by no means the first time the fearless diplomat has accused the United States of torture. In October, 2013, he called the use of extended periods of solitary confinement, routinely used by the US prison authorities torture (read UN Accuses US of Torture). The technique has been extensively used against members of the Black Panthers organization, the radical US black movement of the sixties that fought for equal rights for US blacks.

In a separate statement (UN official calls for prosecution of CIA, US officials...), the UN's Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter Terrorism, Ben Emmerson, has also called for the prosecution of those US officials responsible for torture. “States are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these grave crimes,” Mr. Emmerson said.
US torture at Abu Ghraib
This CIA toex-US President George Bushrture acknowledged by the Senate is separate from earlier revelations of widespread torture by the US Department of Defense in Iraq (and now allegedly in Afghanistan) at the notorious Abu Ghraib and Bhagram prisons. The two sets of torture are however linked by authorisation through a common chain of command leading up to former US President George Bush.

That the US, the self-proclaimed champion of democracy and human rights, would imagine it possible to maintain its credibility and standing in the world whilst failing to punish citizens on its soil responsible for terrible human rights abuses speaks volumes not only about its innermost thoughts about human rights but also about the respect it has for world opinion.

Howeveex-UK Prime Minister Tony Blairr, as egregious as the US authorities actions have been in this regard, the international community has questions

almost as serious to answer. The torture was carried out on European soil, with the knowledge and complicity of European authorities. For all their sanctimonious preaching to Africa about democracy and human rights, the Europeans have remained silent about these abuses. They are not even admitting their role, let alone apologizing for it, let alone prosecuting those who were complicit in the abuses.

The Europeans bear a huge responsibility in these crimes, because they were complicit in them, but questions need to be answered by many others. The essential facts of this torture were known well before now. Why only now, after the release of the US Senate report, do we have this great outcry? Are the blind eyes suddenly sighted? Has the world no independent voice? What did the Pope say when he first heard about these abuses? What about the other world religious leaders, what did they say? Did they condemn torture before the Senate report or after or not at all? What about the press, the BBC with its worldwide reach, such a crusader on issues dear to its heart. How come they now spend so much time soulsearching these ghastly crimes, when actually they knew about them years ago? What about the United Nations Security Council, which had the essential details of this report long ago?  What statements were issued, what discussions were held? The ICCInternational Criminal Court, so vigorous in its recent pursuit of Kenyan President Kenyatta, what steps have they taken before or after the US Senate report? Is it that condemnation and prosecution are reserved only for leaders of poor African countries? It is easy to condemn a Laurent Gbagbo or a Robert Mugabe for holding on to power. They doubtless have siWWII Concentration Camp prisonersncerely held beliefs in the same manner as the authorities in Washington do. It is easy to villify an Omar El Bashir or a Pol Pot. In the flush of World War II victory and now, it is easy to call Hitler an evil dictator. The greater challenge always is to identify and confront evil when the perpetrator looms large within you. History is littered with examples of self-censorship in the face of oppressive power.

The overriding lesson to be drawn from the US Senate report, is not how evil, hypocritical and callous all countries, including the powerful nations of the West, can be but how timid and weak the counterbalancing institutions of the world, the United Nations (notwithstanding the lonely efforts of Juan Mendez and Ben Emmerson), the religions, the judiciaries and the press are, when confronted by the powerful. Their morality, the world's morality, are ensnared in Washington's vise.