CIA’s badge of shame

Published December 11, 2014
File picture shows brutal technique of waterboarding.—Reuters/File
File picture shows brutal technique of waterboarding.—Reuters/File

IT now carries the stamp of officialdom, which in turn carries a degree of mea culpa. And yet, the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s assessment of the excesses committed by the CIA against ‘war on terror’ prisoners cannot be said to have come as a surprise.

On Tuesday, the committee released the report on its years-long review of the agency’s methodologies for obtaining information from terror suspects after the 9/11 attacks.

Also read: US Senate report assails CIA’s torture techniques

The committee voted 11-3 to release the report — or, more accurately, the 400-page redacted summary of the full 6,000-page version that remains classified — perhaps because changes in the Senate next month might have led to a Republican effort to keep it out of the public domain.

It constitutes a truly damning indictment of the CIA’s efforts to ‘save lives’. As human rights groups and the UN, that on Wednesday called for the prosecution of American officials involved in what the report terms as “brutal” interrogation techniques, have concluded, the methodologies can hardly be viewed as anything other than torture.

The rights violations are made all the more egregious by the fact the CIA employed the harshest techniques right from the word go, without even trying to first elicit information in an “open, non-threatening manner”.

Know more: Americans in Pakistan, Afghanistan warned after CIA torture report

To compound the misconduct, the report concluded, there were cases in which the White House’s questions were not answered completely or truthfully by the CIA, misleading the US president, even though an internal report by the CIA, the Panetta Review, had found that there were numerous inaccuracies in the way the agency represented the efficacy of its techniques.

But over the past decade, there have been more than a few indications that the methods being used by the CIA far exceed the domain of the permissible. From Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay and Bagram, news has leaked out often enough.

So, why was stringent investigation not undertaken earlier? Why were the excesses not brought under control? Was this silence in high quarters due to the latent fear of any sort of repeat of the 9/11 atrocities, a desperation to glean any scrap of information that might help prevent such an eventuality?

To some, there is a smoking gun to be found in the Senate committee’s conclusion that the harsh interrogation techniques never yielded any useful intelligence: had it done so, might it have been made out to be a case of the end justifying the means?

The CIA, and the current and earlier US administrations that oversaw its working, have a great deal of questions to answer. But more than that, the American government and people need to look inwards: their own narrative sees the country as a champion of democracy, human rights and as something of a moral compass for the world — but it is not possible to lay claim to such lofty ideals when the reality is so very ugly.

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2014

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