That the US has systematically engaged in torture is no longer in doubt. But the full extent of it, exactly how much, to how many people, and in what form is still not clear, since the Obama administration has resisted calls for a full accounting.
It turns out that the US senate has been investigating the torture practices and back on December 13, 2012 the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had approved a 6000-page report on it. I was not surprised to learn that it has not yet been released and that the Obama administration and some members of the committee are resisting pressure to declassify the report and release it to the public.
Why the reluctance? Here is one possible reason.
It is believed to conclude that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” adopted by the CIA during the Bush years did not produce any major breakthroughs in intelligence. The finding, if confirmed, would contradict previous claims by President Bush himself, his vice-president Dick Cheney and other prominent Bush administration figures who said that extreme interrogation methods allowed the CIA to extract valuable intelligence from a small number of high-level detainees.
Most incendiary have been the claims that such brutal techniques were seminal in tracking down and killing Bin Laden in his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011. The Senate report is believed to conclude that effective torture did not play a central role in finding the al-Qaida mastermind.
So all the justifications trotted out endlessly for why torture was necessary turn out to be false. Not only that, totally innocent people were caught up in the torture dragnet and subjected to horrendous abuses. As Natasha Lennard wrote back in 2012:
As I noted yesterday, the vote to adopt the report coincides with a landmark ruling in the European Court of Human Rights, which on Thursday vindicated the claims of a German-Lebanese man who had been subjected to torture and extraordinary rendition by the CIA. Khaled el-Masri was handed over to CIA agents by Macedonian officials and shipped to a secret Afghan prison dubbed “the salt pit.” Before the CIA realized it had mistaken el-Masri for another terror suspect, it had tortured him for five months. He was beaten, stripped and sodomized.
The European court ruled that both the United States and Macedonia must now issue el-Masri a full-scale public apology and appropriate compensation. For the first time the court explicitly used the term “torture” to describe CIA interrogations.
An apology from the US government for torturing people? The imperial mindset towards apologies was articulated quite clearly vice-president (and later president) George H. W. Bush said in response to the shooting down of the Iran Air 655 civilian airliner “I will never apologize for the United States of America, ever. I don’t care what the facts are.” [My italics-MS]
Members of the senate committee are still rejecting widespread calls for the report to be released and president Obama also objects to its release. As Jane Mayer wrote last week:
At its core is a bitter disagreement over an apparently devastating, and still secret, report by the Senate Intelligence Committee documenting in detail how the C.I.A.’s brutalization of terror suspects during the Bush years was unnecessary, ineffective, and deceptively sold to Congress, the White House, the Justice Department, and the public. The report threatens to definitively refute former C.I.A. personnel who have defended the program’s integrity. But so far, to the consternation of several members of the Intelligence Committee, the Obama Administration, like Bush’s before it, is keeping the damning details from public view.
Yes, it would not at all do to find out that the US undertook a massive and ongoing program of torture, all for no reason. When Obama took office he was pressed as to whether he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Bush-Cheney administration over its torture and other crimes and he refused to do so, famously saying that ‘we need to look forward, not backward’ while paradoxically claiming that no one was above the law. Of course, that weird justification for inaction is never used for actions that he disapproves of.
I suspect that the reason the Obama administration is resisting calls to release the report is because it reveals such appalling behavior by the Bush-Cheney administration that there will be renewed calls for prosecutions that Obama does not want to deal with. Obama needs to cover up the many Bush-Cheney crimes so that his successor will cover up his many crimes. That’s how the game is played. The law does not apply to them or the other members of their elite class, only to the rest of us.