© Josh Sager – December 2014
For years, the world has known that the United States is a nation that committed the war crime of torture during our nation’s “war on terror.” Numerous Bush officials have come out in defense of their use of “enhanced interrogation,” during which they have argued that waterboarding, stress positions, isolation and temperature extremes are perfectly acceptable techniques for interrogators that don’t constitute torture.
Put simply, the law disagrees, and the United States has prosecuted individuals for using those tactics on our soldiers in the past (including several Japanese Officers who we executed for waterboarding American POWs during WWII). Renaming torture “enhanced interrogation” is simply a rhetorical flourish that does nothing to mitigate the inhumanity and criminality of the practice.
Unfortunately, while we knew a little bit about US torture program, it appears that we didn’t know the full scope of our nations’ crimes. Just this week, the Senate released a redacted version of its comprehensive torture investigation—with this report, we get a much more comprehensive view of the CIA’s interrogation activities which paints a much worse picture than previously envisioned.
The Torture Report
Arguably the worst revelations that came from this report are the terribly inhumane types of torture used. New types of torture revealed in the report include the following:
- Multiple detainees were “rectally infused” with nutrients when there was no medical reason to do so. In short, the CIA pureed food into a liquid, shoved a plastic tube into the rectums of detainees, and pumped that food into their intestines as high pressure. Given how painful oral force-feeding is, one can only imagine how terrible this practice is. By any legal definition, this is a form of forcible sodomy and a certain war crime.
- Interrogators threatened detainees’ families—including their mothers and children—with rape and murder if they didn’t talk.
- Detainees were kept awake for up to 180 hours, often in stress positions or in cramped spaces with loud music blaring. Sleep deprivation is extremely dangerous and can cause a variety of disorders including heart failure, psychosis, and brain damage.
- Interrogators put detainees in a series of scenarios that threatened death, including forced games of Russian roulette and mock burials.
- Detainees with broken or otherwise injured feet were chained with their hands raised above their head so that they were forced to stand for hours at a time.
In addition to these inhuman torture methods, we now know that the CIA didn’t just torture people during interrogations, but as a matter of routine and a type of punishment. They tortured detainees before asking them any questions to “soften them up” and as a punishment for any perceived disrespect. Two times, the CIA even accidentally tortured CIA informants who had a history of assisting the agency, simply because they reflexively tortured new detainees. By the CIA’s own assessment, at least a fifth of these detainees were entirely innocent.
Some CIA officials were concerned by the torture regime that they were expected to participate in, but they were directed specifically by the CIA leadership to continue the program. This demonstrates that at least a few lower-level CIA agents on-site had consciences, but that the power structure of the organization was dead-set on implementing their torture regime.
In order to facilitate their use of torture, the CIA and White House conspired to conceal this torture program from anybody who would provide pushback. In addition to selectively leaking deceptive documents to the media, the CIA was directed by top-level White House officials to conceal the torture program’s existence from the State Department and Colin Powel (both were considered unlikely to support torture). The CIA went as far as to conceal the details of its torture program from the oversight committees that theoretically provide accountability to their actions.
Ramifications of the Report
From a legal sense, the Senate torture report should create an incontrovertible need to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes in domestic court or to send them abroad to face international charges. According to both domestic and international law, torture is illegal and there is no option for a nation to simply disregard the law.
The USA is a signatory to the UN’s Convention Against Torture, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Geneva Conventions—all of these international agreements ban torture and mandate severe legal consequences for the offenders.
Even if domestic prosecutors decline to file charges against these torturers, we are bound by treaty to hand over torturers to international authorities to face their crimes. They are not protected by executive immunity, nor are they able to hide behind the chain of command.
If Obama had any moral credibility, he would detain Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and every other link in the chain of command down to the individual torturers, and then send them to The Hague to face charges. To facilitate this, he should send an un-redacted version of the report with these torturers and give the courts access to all of the source documents that were used by the Senate staff to write their report.
Given their clear admissions of ordering torture (ex. Bush admitting his knowledge of waterboarding during media appearances and in his book), I see no way for most of these torturers to escape conviction and would fully expect them to be sentences to decades in prison.
Unfortunately, Obama is a coward and self-interested politician who will never take this principled stand. Not only does he fear the political ramifications of these prosecutions, but he also wouldn’t want to set a precedent where presidents can be arrested for violating international law (this is particularly important in his case, as his drone program is arguably criminal). The release of this report has stirred up a lot of anger, but that will pass from the mainstream eye as the next shiny political distraction occurs and the media loses interest. In all likelihood, these torturers will escape all responsibility and justice will never be served.
Every American should be outraged at this torture, as it was done in our names. Our elected officials have dishonored our nation, both by torturing and by protecting the torturers from criminal prosecution, and we are all tarred by association. At minimum, this stain will fuel even more anti-Americanism in the world, and, at worst, it will be the justification for the next 9/11.