The very fact of publishing the CIA torture report, which presents the United States in a very bad light, shows courage of some representatives of the American political establishment as well as indicates that the U.S. can admit its political mistakes and overcome its implications.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (in the center) is surrounded by reporters after releasing a report on CIA torture, Dec. 9, 2014. Photo: AP
The U.S. Senate report on CIA torture produced a bombshell effect in Russia and around the world, provoking very strong feelings. Despite the fact that some isolated incidents of CIA torture post-9/11 had already come to light, very few people in Russia could have imagined such complicity in these cruel and sophisticated crimes on the part of a country that claims to be the leader of the free world and the protector of democracy and human rights.
But no less astonishing than the facts released by the Senate Intelligence Committee is the response to the report by some members of the U.S. establishment. One gets the feeling that the terrible tragedy of 9/11, which the whole world endured side by side with America, is seen by some U.S. politicians as a kind of indulgence, exculpating them from all sin and affording the right to treat the outside world as morally inferior, regardless of what they actually do.
An unpleasant aftertaste is also left by the ingrained pragmatism of those members of the political elite in Washington presently assessing the effectiveness or otherwise of the CIA’s “enhanced detention and interrogation techniques.” The corollary of condemning such methods as excessive and ineffective is that effective torture, albeit excessive, may well be justified. In other words, the end justifies the means.
In this regard, one cannot fail to be shocked by the punctiliousness and strict adherence to the letter of the law of those CIA personnel responsible for setting up prisons abroad on the grounds that “torture is prohibited in the United States.” It evokes an historical comparison with the hypocrisy of the Inquisition, which resorted to burning heretics because the Church could not shed blood.
Finally, Russians not poisoned by atavistic anti-Americanism are incredulous at the lack of supervision over the U.S. law enforcement agencies: “What? Them as well?” Colin Powell, who served as Secretary of State during President George W. Bush’s first term, was supposedly unaware of the existence of the CIA’s interrogation program.
CIA officers privy to the “enhanced interrogation techniques” knowingly sent false reports, tried to conceal the truth from those higher up, and tapped the phone calls of irrepressible congressmen involved in the investigation.
At the same time, British newspaper The Times asserts with reference to U.S. intelligence representatives that, “Bush knew all about the torture.” CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani told reporters that it was part of the presidential program, coordinated by the White House. It is hard to say which is worse – ignorance or complicity.
President Barack Obama, who bears no personal responsibility for the secret CIA program, adopted a vague position at a White House press conference: “We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.” No comment needed.
Worldwide, Washington’s confession did not go unnoticed by human rights organizations, U.S. allies or its critics. America’s image will undoubtedly suffer.
But, that said, one other aspect should not be passed over in silence. The very fact of publishing this report, which presents the United States in a very bad light, shows courage of the part of the American political establishment, which sticks to the principles of democracy and cannot be attributed merely to inter-party rivalry and the upcoming elections. In addition, revealing the report indicates that the American state's political structure is very sustainable and contains mechanisms of admitting its political mistakes and overcoming its implications.
The power of the state manifests itself primarily in the ability to recognize its mistakes, no matter how terrible they may be. Therein lies the guarantee that such errors will not be repeated. French writer and journalist Emile Zola once wrote: “Truth and justice are above all, for they alone assure the greatness of nations.”
This is especially important for Russia to keep in mind, as it, too, grapples with a less than blameless past that even now continues to influence how the nation deals with the problems of historical memory.
The opinion of the authors may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.