On Torture, Terrorism and Accountability

The Senate Report on the CIA’s use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques – or just plain torture – has shocked many. Despite the fact that much of these revelations where not new, it will still have an important legacy on global politics and counter-terrorism practices in the future.

The report is an important document for several reasons. First of all, it showed the inhumane and brutal treatment of suspected Al Qaida terrorists – whatever difficulties a state may face, this is not the behaviour of a democracy that prides itself as “the land of the free”.

Can you see Norwegian Intelligence and Security Services torturing suspected extreme-right supporters following the Anders Breivik attacks? Me neither. Or as Fyodor Dostoevsky eloquently put it: “the degree to which a society is civilized can be judged by entering its prisons”.

But there is a lot more to this report than just a long list of cruel interrogation techniques. It fits in neatly with other American mistakes following 9/11 that have come to light: such as Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib or the Blackwater Bagdad shootings.

And even more importantly, there is not a single piece of concrete evidence that torture has ever led to systematic production of solid actionable intelligence. But then again, the CIA already knew that in 1989 when it stated that “inhumane physical or psychological techniques are counterproductive because they do not produce intelligence and will probably result in false answers.”

So not only was it brutal, it was also ineffective. And even worse, it probably had negative effects on American national security. Whilst it is difficult to measure the impact it is without a doubt that these shady practices can lead to further radicalisation of those already bearing a grudge against the US. Much like the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, these practices seemed to have been built on revenge instead of deterrence and damaged America’s standing in the world.

The persistent defence of the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques by the likes of former Vice-President Dick Cheney are, oddly enough, reminiscent of Bashar al-Assad or supporters of the Islamic State group. All of them have in common that they deny any responsibility for their actions and constantly proclaim that brutal violence is necessary – because their enemies are “terrorists” or “apostates”.

So for those who are anti-American but support either Assad or Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Your resentment of CIA torture is hypocritical. Stop fooling yourself and stop gloating over American mistakes. At least they have institutions in place that try to correct some of these crimes.

But let’s end with a positive note. Whilst it is unlikely to see the architects of this programme face justice in court in the near future, it is good to know that much of the security measures taken by the US and its allies are being revealed openly – by official reports and proper oversight or whistle-blowers such as Edward Snowden.

Throughout history, many scandals have been buried with their perpetrators or only come to lights decades later. In an increasingly global and digital world, so much of what we do is being captured, analysed and revealed to a global audience. The 21st century has the potential to go down in history as the age of accountability.

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