On torture, terrorism and accountability

On torture, terrorism and accountability

The Senate Report on the CIA’s use of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques – torture – has shocked many. Despite the fact that many of these revelations were not new, they 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, it showed the inhumane and brutal treatment of suspected al-Qaeda terrorists – whatever difficulties a state may face, this is not the behavior 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 Baghdad shootings.

And even more importantly, there is not a single piece of concrete evidence that torture has ever led to a systematic production of solid actionable intelligence. But then again, the CIA already knew that in 1989 when it stated, “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. While it is difficult to measure the impact, it is without a doubt that these shady practices can lead to further radicalization of those already bearing a grudge against the U.S. Much like the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, these practices seemed to have been built on revenge instead of deterrence and have damaged America’s standing in the world.

The persistent defense of the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques by the likes of former Vice President Dick Cheney is, oddly enough, reminiscent of Bashar al-Assad or supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 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 al-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. While it is unlikely to see the architects of this program face justice in court in the near future, it is good to know that much of the security measures taken by the U.S. 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, analyzed and revealed to a global audience. The 21st century has the potential to go down in history as the age of accountability.