One of the worst myths official Washington and its establishment media have told itself about the torture debate is that the controversy is limited to three cases of waterboarding at Guantánamo and a handful of bad Republican actors. In fact, a wide array of torture techniques were approved at the highest levels of the U.S. Government and then systematically employed in lawless US prisons around the world – at Bagram (including during the Obama presidency), CIA black sites, even to US citizens on US soil. So systematic was the torture regime that a 2008 Senate report concluded that the criminal abuses at Abu Ghraib were the direct result of the torture mentality imposed by official Washington.
American torture was not confined to a handful of aberrational cases or techniques, nor was it the work of rogue CIA agents. It was an officially sanctioned, worldwide regime of torture that had the acquiescence, if not explicit approval, of the top members of both political parties in Congress. It was motivated by far more than interrogation. The evidence for all of this is conclusive and overwhelming. And the American media bears much of the blame, as they refused for years even to use the word “torture” to describe any of this (even as they called these same techniques “torture” when used by American adversaries), a shameful and cowardly abdication that continues literally to this day in many of the most influential outlets.
The Senate Intelligence Committee today will release part of its “torture report.” The report is the by-product of four years of work (2009-2013) and is 6,000 pages long. Only the Executive Summary, roughly 600 pages, will be released today. Even some of that is redacted: the names of CIA agents participating in the torture, countries which agreed to allow CIA black sites, and other details. For months, top Democrats on the Committee warred with the Obama White House due to the latter’s attempts to redact far more vital information than even stalwart CIA ally Dianne Feinstein thought necessary.
None of this has been in any plausible doubt for years. Recall that Gen. Antonio Taguba, who led an official investigation into prisoner abuse, said in 2008: “There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” Gen. Barry McCaffrey said : “We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the CIA.” Nobody needs this Senate report to demonstrate that the U.S. government became an official squad of torture (with the American public largely on board).
Still, this will be by far the most comprehensive and official account of the War on Terror’s official torture regime. Given the authors – Committee Democrats along with two Maine Senators: Angus King (I) and Susan Collins ® – it’s likely to whitewash critical events, including the key, complicit role members of Congress such as Nancy Pelosi played in approving the program (important details of which are still disputed), as well an attempt to insulate the DC political class by stressing how the CIA “misled” elected officials about the program. But the report is certain to lay bare in very stark terms some of the torture methods, including “graphic details about sexual threats” and what Reuters still euphemistically and subserviently calls “other harsh interrogation techniques the CIA meted out to captured militants.”
Important parts of the Obama administration engaged in all sorts of gamesmanship to prevent the report’s release, including a last-minute call from John Kerry to Feinstein in which the Secretary of State warned that release of the report could endanger American lives (a warning affirmed yesterday by the White House) And a vital part of President Obama’s legacy will be his repeated and ultimately successful efforts to shield the torturers from all forms of legal accountability – which, aside from being a brazen breach of America’s treaty obligations, makes deterrence of future American torture almost impossible (Obama did that even in the face of some polls showing pluralities favored criminal investigations of torture).
To see how little accountability there still is for national security state officials, recall that the CIA got caught spying on the Senate Committee and then lying about it, yet John Brennan kept his job as CIA Director (just as James Clapper is still Director of National Intelligence despite getting caught lying about NSA domestic spying). Any decent person, by definition, would react with revulsion to today’s report, but nobody should react with confidence that its release will help prevent future occurrences by a national security state that resides far beyond democratic accountability, let alone the law.
The Intercept will have comprehensive coverage of the report throughout the day. We’ll have full annotations of the report; graphical guides to the key parts; reporting in Washington from Dan Froomkin, who has been covering the report for months, and other reporters; and I’ll be live-blogging key parts of the report and other fallout in this space all day, appearing, in reverse chronological order, underneath these initial observations.
[CLICK HERE TO SEE EXAMPLES OF DOCUMENTED TORTURE]