The revelations of CIA torture are the tip of an iceberg. The larger issue remains the apparent American inability to formulate a bipartisan approach to work multilaterally and through international institutions to begin addressing the instability and inequality characterizing this first half of the 21st Century.
By Gerard Gallucci
While much had already been known about the CIA torture program, the recent US Senate report brings out many details and pieces of confirming – and damming – information. In the foreword to the report – and speaking of the US reaction to 9/11 – Committee Chairperson Senator Feinstein said:
”Pressure, fear, and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper, or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security. The major lesson of this report is that regardless of the pressures and the need to act, the Intelligence Community’s actions must always reflect who we are as a nation, and adhere to our laws and standards. It is precisely at these times of national crisis that our government must be guided by the lessons of our history and subject decisions to internal and external review. Instead, CIA personnel, aided by two outside contractors, decided to initiate a program of indefinite secret detention and the use of brutal interrogation techniques in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values.”
In addition to being horrified and ashamed by the Senate revelations – thoroughly disputed by CIA defenders and Senate Republicans – it is also possible for Americans to claim a certain degree of pride that we live in a country that reveals such dirty truths about itself. But it is worth noting that the CIA use of torture was unleashed by President George Bush, covered by legal findings from the Justice Department and CIA lawyers, sanctioned by CIA doctors and others supposedly meant to prevent excess, briefed to the Congressional oversight committees (who overlooked being lied to by CIA officials assuring them that all was proper) and ultimately sanctioned by President Obama’s decision not to hold anyone accountable for violating human decency and international law. Not much to be proud of here, really.
President Bush and his henchmen – Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and CIA Director George Tenet – decided on the night of September 11, 2001 to invade Afghanistan and then Iraq and to get Osama Bin Laden. They eventually used torture and fabricated “intelligence” to accomplish these objectives. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were done outside international law, as was the torture. The result of the invasions – after much blood and money – has been broken states and war without apparent end. The US “global war on terrorism” has created new enemies, most recently the Islamic State. The mess caused has led the US even to accept implicit alliances with leaders – Assad and Iran – it really doesn’t like. Clearly war has not solved anything.
The Bush Administration’s use of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and the CIA secret prisons, renditions, black flights and torture gave away the moral high-ground the world ceded the US after 9/11. NSA’s relentless spying on anyone it could in service to that “global war” furthered the justifiable impression of a United States that has lost its moral compass.
Clearly, torture and the unilateral resort to violence – including assassinations by Special Forces, drones or whatever – is immoral. But it also stupid. When you have to resort to such measures to seek your “policy objectives,” you almost certainly are pursuing the wrong strategy. Isaac Asimov once said that violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. In fact, it is no refuge at all. The current CIA Director this week finally admitted that the usefulness of information derived by torture is “unknowable.” US support for the Afghan Mujahideen and overthrow of Najibullah – both efforts to accomplish Cold War policy aims through unilateral and violent intervention – started the dominoes falling. The decision to interfere yet again in the civil war within Islam by declaring war on the Islamic State is just the latest.
The obsession on fighting fundamentalism with whatever violence can be brought to bear has made the world more dangerous for everyone. (Obama has only continued the basic Bush approach. He may go down in history as the most inappropriate winner of the Nobel Peace Prize ever.) The preference for use of force has also distracted us from focusing on dealing with the basic issues that generate support for extremism. The revelations of CIA torture are the tip of an iceberg. The larger issue remains the apparent American inability to formulate a bipartisan approach to work multilaterally and through international institutions to begin addressing the instability and inequality characterizing this first half of the 21st Century.
Gerard M. Gallucci is a retired US diplomat and UN peacekeeper. He worked as part of US efforts to resolve the conflicts in Angola, South Africa and Sudan and as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. He served as UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica, Kosovo from July 2005 until October 2008 and as Chief of Staff for the UN mission in East Timor from November 2008 until June 2010. He was Diplomat-in-Residence at Drake University for the 2013-14 school year and now works as an independent consultant.