The United States never misses a chance to denounce terrorism, and that’s understandable given the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. But the criticism starts to look more than a little hypocritical when the country’s national spy agency commits its own brand of twisted violence in response to that terrorism.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released its long-awaited report into the Central Intelligence Agency’s program of coerced interrogations at secret, overseas prisons. The 6,700-page document — a sickening catalogue of human rights abuses — is an indictment not only of the CIA, but of the political overseers who tacitly approved of and covered for the agency‘s activities. Among the worst examples of torture: five detainees were subjected to “rectal rehydration and feeding,” which in one case meant a lunch tray of “hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins was ‘pureed and rectally infused’” with the “biggest tube we had.” Some men were chained in standing positions on broken limbs, while another spent 266 hours in a coffin-sized box and another 29 hours in a “small confinement box, which had a width of 21 inches, a depth of 2.5 feet, and a height of 2.5 feet.” Even utter compliance — one detainee would climb aboard the waterboarding station at the snap of a finger — wasn’t enough to stop the punishment. A man died of hypothermia after being forced to sit on a frigid concrete floor with no pants on.
The report details how ex-President George W. Bush, when briefed in detail for the first time about “enhanced” interrogations, expressed discomfort with the “image of a detainee, chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper, and forced to go to the bathroom on himself.” It stands to reason the president’s discomfort paled in comparison to that of the prisoner. Obviously it wasn’t enough to compel him to do something about it.
Not that it matters when weighed against the crimes described in the report, the intelligence committee found that the CIA program wasn’t even an effective means of acquiring intelligence. Of the CIA’s 119 detainees, 26 shouldn’t have been apprehended (two were actually working for a foreign partner agency when they were picked up, and others were chained in standing sleep deprivation positions after approaching the agency to provide information).
Despite all that, some will argue that the agency’s actions were a justified response to 9/11, and that Western governments shouldn’t be averse to fighting torture with torture. Certainly, nothing excuses the thousands of murders committed by al-Qaeda and the continuing campaign of ethnic cleansing, beheading and rape by ISIL militants in Iraq and Syria. When Canadians hear of those atrocities, we are aghast. That the CIA acted so inhumanely for so many years should also leave us troubled. Terrorism is wrong, no matter who is committing it.
Without a doubt, the U.S. is our closest military and intelligence ally, our biggest trading partner, and a friend in good times and bad. For all of its faults, it still represents the ideals of freedom and self-determination to people around the world. It is a credit to President Barack Obama that he ended the interrogation program five years ago. But it looks like no one will face consequences for these crimes.
The CIA’s actions should forever serve as a reminder that no society is immune to the kind of barbarism we claim to abhor. Canada cannot condone this torture, implicitly or explicitly.
The America we want to believe in is better than this.