It is irksome to hear US presidents admonishing other countries on human rights and alleged crimes against humanity, while trumpeting their own country’s set-in-stone values. A nation either operates on a certain set of values, ethics and principles or it does not. Values cannot be cherry-picked as a matter of convenience. US administrations go out of their way to present a squeaky clean facade and when they are caught on the hop, they invariably attempt to get themselves off the hook by stating the crimes in question were committed by a few bad apples who end up getting nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
Even those high up, unable to escape justice because their crimes were made public, often receive presidential pardons or have their sentences commuted. For instance, president Richard Nixon, who was shamed in Watergate was subsequently pardoned by his successor, president Gerald Ford. Another well-known example involves officials convicted of perjury or withholding information related to the Iran-Contra Affair, such as Caspar Weinberger, Robert McFarlane, Elliott Abrams and others, pardoned by George H.W. Bush in 1992. A year later, Weinberger was nominated chairman of Forbes magazine; McFarlane became an advisor to Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, while Abrams was appointed special assistant to George W. Bush and senior director for Democracy.
So, if anyone seriously believes senior heads will roll over the recently released Senate ‘Torture Report’, indicting the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for exceeding its authority, they would be advised to think again. Those who ordered CIA prisons turned into horror chambers, straight out of the Middle Ages, will get away with it, never mind that the heavily redacted report is only readable by those with strong stomachs.
Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron certainly knows the United Kingdom is in it up to its neck, yet he has the audacity to express his view that “torture is always wrong and we won’t succeed if we lose our moral authority”. It has already lost. MI5 agents often sat-in on interrogations and the UK was allegedly complicit in renditions of suspects. If British hands were clean, then why did the UK government press hard on the US to redact its involvement from the Senate report? The day prior to the report’s issuance, Cameron’s spokesman was asked whether redactions had been sought. “None whatsoever to my knowledge,” he replied. But Number Ten later acknowledged that the US had, indeed, granted Britain’s request for deletions.
Detainees, most of whom were picked up simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, were subjected to ‘rectal feeding’, water-boarding, ice baths, extended sleep deprivation, Russian Roulette and threats of harm to their wives and children. One man, wrongly detained, died of hypothermia after being thrown almost naked in a cold cell and chained to the floor, another had a drill placed close to this head. Several were told their mothers would be raped.
This has echoes of Abu Ghraib all over again. In that instance, a few fall guys were chosen to take the rap, such as the notorious former army reserve officer, Lynndie England, who served just half of her three-year sentence and refuses to apologise for her disgusting treatment of detainees until this day.
The US political and military establishment is already closing ranks, coming up with untenable pretexts to protect all those connected with such abhorrent acts, which the report states failed to deliver the goods, in that no actionable intelligence was gained from practices sanitised as “enhanced interrogation methods”.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told a Swiss radio station that such interrogation techniques might not be unconstitutional while stressing on the ‘ticking bomb’ argument. He clearly has no problem that, according to the report, the CIA lied to the Bush administration and the Senate. The ‘ticking bomb’ theory has little merit in that a person in great pain and distress will say anything they believe their torturer wants to hear just to make it stop. Moreover, rather than diminish terrorism, torture acts as a recruitment tool, making American citizens around the world number one terrorist targets.
Likewise, the Director of the CIA, John Brennan, is defiant. He challenges the report’s findings that torture produced nothing of value. “The detention and interrogation programme produced useful intelligence that helped the United States thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives,” he says, adding his “fervent hope” is for the country to put aside the debate and move on. And no surprise here, US President Barack Obama, who has condemned torture in the past, backs him. Human rights organisations calling for prosecutions are crying to the wind.
As a child in Wales, I used to queue outside a local cinema on Saturday afternoons to watch the good guys — always Americans and Britons — take on the bad. Hollywood conditioned us to believe that the US was a paragon and its foot soldiers were heroes in a world of evildoers. I was disabused of that notion after Vietnam, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Iraq, which is paying the price of US intervention even today. So please, Mr Obama, don’t talk to us about American values or lecture other governments on their errors of judgement. People in glass houses should not throw stones at others and when they do, they cannot complain when the same boomerangs.
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at email@example.com