What the Senate Report Reveals... and Covers Up
Torture to Enforce a World of Horrors

by Alan Goodman | December 15, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


On December 9, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued a “Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program.” This is a report on the orgy of officially approved torture carried out by the CIA in the aftermath of the attacks launched by Islamic fundamentalists on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, and of CIA moves to lie about the scope, nature, and results of this torture.

The Senate report is highly censored. It is a product of years of infighting within different government agencies and factions over how much (or little) torture to reveal, how to package that torture, and who to blame. It covers up or glosses over the fact that—even if all the details were not known—top leaders of both parties knew the basic picture of this torture and signed off on it.

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Most essentially, from beginning to end, the Senate report frames the torture carried out by the CIA in terms of whether or not that torture “saved American lives,” produced “useful intelligence” about Al Qaeda, and whether, in the end, this torture was in the “national interest of the United States.”

That’s an IMMORAL framework. The interests of rulers of the United States are the interests of a global empire of exploitation and oppression. American lives are not more important than other people’s lives. And nothing justifies torture.

In 2009, in the midst of earlier revelations of the torture that took place under the Bush regime, I wrote at revcom.us: “Let’s make it plain: torture is, literally and in essence, a crime against humanity. Like rape, it is a systematic attempt to violently degrade people and rob them of their very humanity.”

Abu Ghraib

Ali Shalal, above, was tortured as a prisoner by U.S. military and CIA interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003. He was told his hands were attached to electrical wires and that he would be electrocuted if he moved. Photo: AP

The scale of torture, the randomness with which victims were grabbed up, and the official endorsement of all this points to the real and essential motivation behind it: to instill terror across a wide swathe of the Middle East and Central Asia, and to send a mob-style message that nobody fucks with the U.S. empire... or else.

The Most Depraved Crimes

The report describes extensive waterboarding—previously portrayed as a less sadistic and deadly form of torture—as a “series of near drownings.” One detainee, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was subjected to this horrific torture 183 times. In addition, he was deprived of sleep for seven and a half days, mostly forced into a standing position.

The CIA torturers took sadistic and ghoulish delight in inflicting sexually degrading torture on captives. Detainees were frequently stripped naked and forced to urinate and defecate on themselves. The report describes “rectal feeding”—forcing material up the rectums of detainees, a form of rape.

Detainees were subjected to constant and viciously realistic death threats. They were placed in tubs of ice for extended times. One detainee was chained partially nude to a concrete floor and died of hypothermia. Prisoners were subjected to sleep deprivation for up to a week, driven to “hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation.”

Artwork of waterboarding

Artwork: Special to revcom.us/Revolution

Other People’s Lives Matter!

In the wake of the Senate report, the airwaves have been filled with “debate.” Not over what kind of a system would produce such obscenities. Or what it will take to bring about a world where such things never happen. Instead, people are being trained to think that if torture saved American lives, then it was OK, and if it didn’t, then maybe it is not OK. As if any crime, no matter how barbaric, is fine if it protects American lives. And that other lives don’t matter.

Do you hear a familiar, ugly message here? You should. The same oppressive, genocidal, murdering system that enforces a reign of terror in Black communities from Ferguson to Staten Island, from Cleveland to Albuquerque, carries out even more naked oppression around the world. And just as Black lives do NOT matter to those who rule this system, the lives of the people of the world do not matter to them either.

The people who rule this empire of plunder they call the USA look down at the slums and barrios of this country and the world, at the workers who pick their crops and sew their clothes, at the angry, alienated youth. They see slaves to be kept in line. They see threats and potential threats to their whole setup. And they see vast sections of humanity as “extraneous”—unnecessary and unwanted—to be locked up and kept down through violence, terror, and TORTURE.

That is why when their police murder Black people, even if this or that politician wrings their hands in angst, over and over again police walk away with a pat on the back. And that is why, even if senators argue over just how the CIA should terrorize the people of the world, they will never stop doing what they do as long as this system stays in power.

The fact that the events of September 11, 2001 were carried out by reactionary Islamic fundamentalist forces doesn’t justify anything the CIA did. Nothing justifies torture. And as a matter of fact, those forces—including Osama Bin Laden who took credit for the 9/11 attacks—were originally put in business by the CIA to wage a war in Afghanistan in the 1980s against the Soviet Union, which at the time headed up a rival imperialist bloc that confronted the U.S. around the world. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, these forces had a “falling out” with their former U.S. sponsors. And after 9/11, like a big-time mob cartel—when the U.S. thinks anyone might get the idea that it is vulnerable—the U.S. lashed out. With invasions. And with torture. To send a message to anyone who might think about getting in its way.

Not “Saving Lives” But Enforcing a World of Horrors

It has to be repeated: Even if it was the case that torture “produced useful intelligence” or “saved American lives,” the objectives of the rulers of the U.S. empire are not in the interests of people anywhere. And torture is immoral in any instance.

But in that light, it is revealing that the Senate report basically exposes that the stream of news reports aimed at the U.S. audience to justify torture was all lies. A slavishly compliant U.S. mainstream media channeled CIA “leaks” into articles and stories aimed at convincing Americans that whatever the CIA was doing was producing “successes” in the so-called “War on Terror.” The report documents that of “the CIA’s eight most frequently cited examples of ‘thwarted’ plots,” those “CIA representations were inaccurate and unsupported by CIA records.” (See pages 223-225 of the report.)

The conclusion this leads to—but which the report does not touch with a ten-foot pole—is that torture was carried out not to “gather information,” much less “save lives,” but to instill terror.

Ghoulish Criminals Must Be Held Accountable

President George W. Bush, cabinet officials, and congressional leaders of both parties were in the loop from the beginning, and in various ways gave the OK for all these crimes, and took the exceptional step of formally authorizing them.

In February 2002, Bush signed a presidential edict stating that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions (an international agreement to which the U.S. supposedly subscribes), which prohibits “mutilation, cruel treatment and torture,” did not apply to anyone suspected of being associated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban—the reactionary Islamic fundamentalist force that ruled Afghanistan.

Mutilation? Torture? If you were a CIA operative, how would you “interpret” that as anything but a blatant green light to carry out “mutilation” and “torture”? The White House office of legal council was assigned to, and repeatedly issued concocted legal excuses for torture during and after the fact. Anyone in the office who objected, even mildly, was pushed out of the way.

Bush’s open embrace of illegal assassination and torture outraged many people in this country and became an international scandal. Obama ran for president with promises to end torture. But Obama insisted early on that he would not prosecute anyone who committed these crimes. A New York Times piece summarized how Obama has handled torture: “Court cases continued to be shut down before a word could be argued; officials who spoke to the press about this and other issues like wiretapping have been prosecuted, along with reporters themselves, with a disturbing enthusiasm.”

Any government which not only tolerates such things but which, from its highest offices, justifies and insists on them... any government which does not, once this has been exposed, prosecute the perpetrators but instead provides them in advance with immunity... reveals itself as a government of a system that requires such crimes, and such criminals, for its functioning.

And any people who do not resist such crimes, and demand prosecution of the torturers and, even more so, those who formulated the policy at the highest levels, reveal themselves to be complicit in those crimes. And in passively allowing the humanity of others to be degraded and attacked, they lose their own.

Nobody should accept a world like this. The perpetrators of torture and those who gave the orders must be confronted, exposed, and people must demand they be prosecuted for their crimes. Doing that has a thousand links to, and will strengthen, the movement being built for an actual revolution that will put an end to this criminal system.

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