By Pam Martens: December 10, 2014
Yesterday, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a 499-page Executive Summary of its 6,000-page report on the use of torture by the CIA during the presidency of George W. Bush. The outrage to the findings was immediate and worldwide. The New York Times called the conduct “a portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend.”
Senator John McCain, who experienced torture first-hand during the Vietnam War, said the CIA had “stained our national honor.” Stephen Kinzer, writing in the Boston Globe, said that “no one has suggested that these officers, or their superiors, were doing anything other than what elected leaders wanted them to do. By focusing on the CIA’s kidnappers, torturers, and fabulists, this report diverts us away from the central responsibility of political leaders.”
Among the barbarous tactics used against the prisoners was waterboarding, sleep deprivation while standing in stress positions for up to 180 hours, confinement in small boxes, and what the CIA has decided to characterize as “rectal hydration” or “rectal feeding” where the detainee had pureed food or hummus inserted in their rectum. Thomas Burke, a professor at Harvard Medical School and an emergency physician at Massachusetts General Hospital told the Washington Post that: “No one in the United States is hydrating anybody through their rectum. Nobody is feeding anybody through their rectum…That’s not a normal practice.” Burke added later in the interview: “What we can say is that because nobody [in the medical field] would do it, it has to lead to the question of, what were they really doing?” The Senate report notes that an interrogation official at one point said the tactic demonstrated his “total control over the detainee.”
President Obama said about the findings: “That’s not who we are.” While it may not be whom the majority of Americans are, it is becoming increasingly clear that those gaining high office in the United States are frequently unfit for the position and that accountability for serial criminality – whether in the military, at the CIA or on Wall Street – goes unprosecuted and undeterred by the U.S. Justice Department.
Confronted with growing, insurmountable evidence that this is who we are at the top of the power circle where decisions are made, if average Americans are not willing to engage in mass marches to take back their country, we have all become willful participants in the criminality and atrocities.
As a sharp reminder as to what we tolerate from leaders in the United States, former President George W. Bush called the CIA officers “patriots” on CNN just prior to the release of the Senate report. Former Vice President Cheney was quoted in The Atlantic, stating: “If I had to do it over again. I would do it.”
The Senate report comes less than two weeks after the United Nations Committee Against Torture released its official report on U.S. policies regarding torture, finding that the U.S. government is in gross violation of protecting basic principles of the Convention Against Torture, as well as other international treaties. The report stated:
“The Committee expresses its grave concern over the extraordinary rendition, secret detention and interrogation programme operated by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) between 2001 and 2008, which involved numerous human rights violations, including torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance of persons suspected of involvement in terrorism-related crimes. While noting the content and scope of Presidential E.O. 13491, the Committee regrets the scant information provided by the State party with regard to the now shuttered network of secret detention facilities, which formed part of the high-value detainee programme publicly referred to by President Bush on 6 September 2006. It also regrets the lack of information provided on the practices of extraordinary rendition and enforced disappearance; and, on the extent of the CIA’s abusive interrogation techniques used on suspected terrorists, such as waterboarding.”
In addition to Bush-era human rights violations, the U.N. report criticized the Obama administration and demanded that it end the continued harsh treatment of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. As a Presidential candidate, President Obama repeatedly promised to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. It became one of his many broken promises.
The U.N.’s cynicism about the U.S. likely stems from the fact that torture didn’t stop after the universal outrage over the revelations of prisoner torture at the hands of the U.S. military at the Abu Ghraib prison twenty miles west of Baghdad. An internal report found that in 2003 there were multiple instances of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib. The abuse was carried out by soldiers from the 372nd Military Police Company as well as by U.S. intelligence personnel. On April 28, 2004, CBS’ 60 Minutes II aired horrifying photos of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, setting off worldwide outrage. In the May 10, 2004 issue of The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh described the abuses detailed in the internal report as follows:
“Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.”
Within the next two months, thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union, the public may get photographic evidence that torture was widely carried out at overseas detention centers. The ACLU has been battling the case in court for the past ten years. The government is holding back as many as 2,100 never-released photos of prisoner abuse. This past August, Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the Obama administration must publish the photos unless it can successfully defend withholding them on a photo-by-photo basis. A final court decision is expected by next month.