If you are the US, you can get away with anything. Even torture.

Published: December 13, 2014

A Guantanamo detainee's feet are shackled to the floor at Camp 6 detention center, at the US Naval Base, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

States exist for their own well-being. They have their self-interests. Domestic and foreign policies define and dictate state acts and omissions on the world stage. In the post 9/11 order, state-to-state interaction has undergone an incredible amount of change with the entire gamut of international relations now at the mercy of a few role players. The United States of America, of course, holds the centre stage, in a global effort against the spread of religious fanaticism and waging a war on terrorism.

That being said, the recently released report detailing the US Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) tactics of interrogation after September 11, 2001, has rocked the Washington political scene. The reaction has been one of shock and awe. Tremors have been felt far and beyond US boundaries with mixed feelings expressed by American allies as well as adversaries.

The report is a culmination of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s five-year effort of reading and analysing more than 6.3 million pages of CIA documents to assess the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” in the post-9/11 era. That review produced a more than 6,000 page review that was condensed into a 525-page summary which the committee released on December 9th. This delivered a brutal assessment of the CIA’s practices.

The release of the report took six long years of haggling between the CIA and the White House. A lot of back and forth took place essentially about managing the dissemination of information. Those six years were spent on walking a tight rope and trying to contemplate on either exposing too many or too few details to the general public. The end product, as we see it, has been blanked out at several places so that national security interests are not jeopardised. It mentions a series of events, torture strategies, sessions and investigations carried out by officials, providing a graphic description of how detainees were treated.

Not much needs to be said about the content of the report. We all know that whatever has been disclosed is a ‘bunch of crap’ not in the sense that Dick Cheney described it, but it is literally filled with gross and nasty, inhumane stories of lives and bodies of people being played around with and mutilated, both emotionally and physically. Pages after pages are filled with narration of complete violation of human dignity and values that are critical for the existence and survival of a civilised society.

Other than Cheney’s outrageous response, the report hasn’t been received favourably. Yes, there are some like Sam Harris who feel that torture is a legitimate weapon and hence can be liberally employed to extract information. Obviously, Harris has his own set of ideas and arguments to support his contention, which, to my mind, are based on the good old, Machiavellian, fear tactics used effectively by John Ashcroft and company. They have undoubtedly worked at the expense of taking away trust and tolerance from different pockets of the American society.

Michael Hayden, the former CIA director, has come out from the shadows to defend the torture methods as well. Hayden was an important part of anti-terrorism strategy during the George Bush White House years. Additionally, right wingers like Rush Limbaugh, are having a field day, trying to punch down the report’s credentials left, right and centre in an effort to prove that a no torture policy is not acceptable.

Current CIA Director, John Brennan, addressed the Senate torture report in a live press conference on Thursday, December 11th. He defended his agency, saying that after 9/11, those involved operated with national security in mind, but admitted,

“The CIA was unprepared to conduct a detention and interrogation program, and our officers inadequately developed and monitored its initial activities.”

The one sanest voice that came across was that of Dianne Feinstein, chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The senator from the state of California declared that the torture tactics were ‘a stain on our values and our history’. Ms Feinstein found an unlikely ally in the Congress, Senator John McCain, a republican from Arizona. McCain, a torture victim during the Vietnam War himself, vehemently criticised the use of blatant procedures and believes that torturing detainees will only be detrimental to US efforts to stem the growth of religious fundamentalism.

For countries like Pakistan, that have been at the forefront of the war on terrorism, the report is a reconfirmation of the fact that Pakistani nationals, handed over to the US over time, were mishandled in the worst possible ways. While the government has always faced stiff public opposition, pressure and questions regarding the support are bound to increase. Apparently, the US has now come up with an explanation to calm the Pakistani emotions down by assuring the government that it will not indulge in nefarious tactics on detainees that violate international humanitarian precepts. Needless to say, such assurances can be nothing but hollow promises.

Nations like Pakistan before handing over their citizens, must do some homework rather than blindly putting their own people at risk. This is something for the Pakistani leadership to think about. Granted that Pakistan has proven to be the breeding ground of terrorism, yet, it appears that investigation processes lack clarity, and better vetting should be done prior to branding anyone a ‘terrorist’.

The CIA report is bound to bring to light other policies pursued by the US. Use of drones has been questioned in the past. Such questions are being discussed even more actively now. Is the usage of drones to target terrorist hideouts even working or is it only adding to the list of problems and enemies for the US? The fact that drone attacks in various parts of the world, such as Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan, have ended up killing thousands of innocent civilians only means that more and more victims now want to seek revenge. Families, clans and, in some cases, entire villages have been rendered dysfunctional by the dreadful drones.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, the CIA report has shed doubts about America’s commitment toward democracy and democratic values. While the US touts itself as the great defender of freedom, it has proven itself to be one of the worst aggressors in world history. It is a setback for those who had abundant faith in the spirit of liberty that this country stood for. Hard working, peace-loving immigrants come here seeking livelihood, peaceful coexistence and freedom from want and persecution. At the global level, anti-US forces have pounced on the opportunity to criticise Washington and condemn its double standards. The CIA report is nothing but a stigma, a scar that is almost impossible to get rid of.

Since I’m at it, I’d be missing out on an opportunity to reflect on something that has nagged me for a while. And, this is the TV show Homeland – a sad, pathetic and distorted portrayal of facts. No one expects Hollywood dramas to be perfect but ‘Homeland’ is one hell of nonsense that tests the patience of even the most tolerant and less-sceptical minds. Unlike what the show depicts, CIA, as the report in question proves beyond doubt, is no friend of humanity. Perhaps it is time to scrap the show and come up with something that is closer to reality.

All things considered, this CIA report is no flash in the pan or a social media gimmick making rounds of the freaky internet. It is not an account of a one off, coincidental occurrence that took place, and hence we roll with it and let it go.

Torture is an institution in the US.

The report shows that CIA and torture are close like salt and pepper. This is about real life and the real destruction of it. Worst of all, as the document makes it clear, the irony of all this is that the results of all the torture inflicted on the detainees did not even produce the desired results.

Even worse, the US has lost the high moral ground that it occupied not long ago. The bare-knuckle approach did not go down well. That good guy, friend of humanity image has been chopped into pieces, disintegrated into the ground. All we are now left with is a tough guy, Cheney, gun totting, bomb dropping, image that’ll not help make any friends at a time when the US is in terrible need of friends.

Getting the report out doesn’t necessarily change the ground reality that the US has acted as an international bully. Washington needs to do a tremendous amount of damage control. Current US policies do not auger well for the future generations, not only domestically but they have a negative universal impact. It is, however, a matter of appreciation that unlike many other countries of the world where brutalities carried out on enemies are never disclosed, the US has a transparent system, enough to acknowledge its blunders and blemishes.

Now that we are done with the process of identification and acknowledgement, this is the time to start making amends. The root to the fruit, as they say, is to rediscover the sense and spirit to do well, act smartly, and persevere and pursue policies that are humane and just. Over-ambitiousness will no longer work if the US plans to continue playing a leading role in the comity of nations.

On a personal note, this writer still has hope.

Yes, I felt a sense of betrayal last week when the report came out. Yet, I believe that the US lost its way momentarily and will be back on track if thorough steps and measures are taken.

Having spent the best years of my life here, I know that this country is all about justice, fairness, equality and strong values. I can attest to the fact that there are an incredible number of good folks here that do good and encourage others to do the same. Yes, Washington is a nasty place but politicians and policy makers know and understand that this torture episode has pushed the societal consciousness to its limits. There’s no more stretching or flexing of muscles. It is time to contemplate and let peaceful tenets and beliefs overpower the obsession to hurt and kill.

The CIA report is a hyper distortion of the ideals and values that the US stands for. No matter how much the protagonists try to justify the procedures related to tortures, the fact remains that the US is capable of conducting business in a much better, effective, tactful and respectable manner. Cooler heads need to prevail. There’s no other better way to fix the systemic aberrations.

Ahson Saeed Hasan

Ahson Saeed Hasan

The writer is a proud American, a peacenik who has traveled well over 80 countries and lived in four continents. He likes to share his experiences and reflect on the worldly surroundings. He tweets @tweetingacho (twitter.com/tweetingacho)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Critical

    Changing the quote from “A Few Good Men”

    You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for these terrorists and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that torture, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives! You don’t want the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like “honor”, “code”, “loyalty”. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said “thank you”, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!Recommend

  • http://www.sepia-paper.deviantart.com Muhammed Waqar Younis

    and US said that Pakistan 2013 elections were transparent and fair and now it turns out completely opposite, US loves to shoot itself in the leg and blame the next person standing with it, we all know deep down that the men in blue are corrupt unimaginably one way or the other…Recommend

  • Mir

    Indians commenting about Balochistan in 3, 2, 1…Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I would like to ask some “things”
    Do you think this is bad even if it saved lives? Cuz there is HUGE evidence that it did.
    Secondly, How do you purpose the USA should treat people who are involved in terrorism. Tickle them ? Talk with them? ?????(My surmise being that there is no alternative)
    My own personal view is that a person who does this much mass murder and incites others to kill and organizes this amount of killings should be dealt with even more severely. They should have televised the whole thing, it would have kept away lots of people from joining the Taliban.
    My anger stems from first hand accounts of parents who say that their boys went for “jihad” after the US invaded Afghanistan, none have been heard of since. These so called humans tore away thousands of young boys from their families, thousands of girls were raped because of them and hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes. They caused grief to so many people that if their tears were to be collected together they will drown these inhuman animals a thousands times over.
    So, in a nutshell, WAKE UP. These guys are not the cherubic choir boys. Put yourself in place of a woman whose son has been forcibly recruited by Taliban and her daughter raped. Then write what you think she would have said when this report came out.Recommend

  • Jayman

    They didn’t get away, did they? The ones who are getting away are the Islamic State hoodlums who are distributing a manual of horrors and the poor yazidi women are paying for it. Sex slaves? Really?? What does the author think about that?Recommend

  • Parvez

    When talking on this subject with my elder brother who has been in America now over 50 years and me taking the line you have in this write up…….he laughs and says stop talking like an adolescent.Recommend

  • siesmann

    wow!talk about blaming.Pakistan blames all things on US,India,Israel and all the world.Just never introspect.US did not vote in Pakistan ,nor it was the Election Commission.Blame where blame is due!!Recommend

  • siesmann

    well said!!Recommend

  • mayo

    What..? You and I have always been duped into believing that US is targeting ‘terrorists’ only. What did Dr Aafia Siddiqui and likewise, other pakistani nationals in Guantanamo Bay do to get physically and mentally molested day after day, year after year? Mind you, the tactics they use are unfathomable to say the least if you only know. I am dead sure not even a hand full of people actually know what goes on behind those bars. You say what would happen if our women got raped, do you even know what sort ‘ordeal’ women have to go through over there? Your sympathy should extend to all sir. What if.. there is even a 0.5% chance (in actuality, much more than that) that they are innocent? then are those ‘techniques’ justified?
    PS pls do not remove my comment ETRecommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    what does this have to do with them making the Taliban talk?Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Afia siddique was a confirmed terrorist. She was arrested with bomb making documents. She took advantage of the fact that the afghans respected her and they did not handcuff her as a normal prisoner. She took up a rifle which was by the side of a military officer and tried to shoot two FBI agents. Questions to be asked about her are
    1) What was she doing in Afghanistan
    2)Why is her husband saying that she is a terrorist. He is muslim through and through and he knew her better than you.
    3)Why did she have links with Al.Qaeeda and other terror organizations
    4)Why did she try to shoot the FBI guys
    5)why did she have bomb making documents with her.
    You statement
    “You say what would happen if our women got raped, do you even know what sort ‘ordeal’ women have to go through over there?”

    is beyond understanding. English is second language for me, plz explain it to me.

  • Ernest Dempsey

    Well before jumping on the bandwagon of crying foul over torture reports from US, take a moment to turn to torture as an institution in Pakistan. What place has hundreds of missing people from a single province – targeted for their political beliefs or activism – and later found dead with severe torture marks? What place has military captains shielded by the state’s highest authority for raping a woman in a province demanding independence? I do not expect terrorists to be treated with respect or hospitality. And when it comes to accountability, well, the US at least tried its soldiers for raping and killing an Iraqi girl. Has Pakistan bothered to even try those rapists of 1971 war?Recommend

  • Faulitics

    Your brother is wise.Recommend

  • Truth Seeker

    Not only Torture, US can get away with any thing.
    Has the US ever apologized to Japan for dropping Atom Bombs on two Civilian cities which killed hundred’s of thousands of innocent people?
    Has the US ever been accounted for the killing of thousands of innocent people in Vietnam war?
    Don’t forget about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the UGLY Role that US has played there since the 80’s…… Arming Saddam Hussain with weapons and only supporting Saddam in Iran Iraq war, making of Al-Qaeeda to fight the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, Arming of Al-Nusra (Al-Qaeeda) and FSA (Terrorists) in Syria, arming the terrorists in Libya, continuous support of Israel against the brutal killing of Palestinian people, all out support for the dictators like General Zia ul Haq, Pervaiz Musharraf, General Sisi, Hussni Mubbarak, Saddam Hussain, and support to the Sheiks in Middle east who do not represent their people …. And they want us to believe that this is being done by the US to achieve PEACE in world.
    May be there is no one in this world who can make the US accountable for all its evil’s but GOD is watching.Recommend