The State Department has issued a document that endorses the findings of the Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention practices after the 9/11 attacks. The document notably avoids references to “torture” but discussed now the CIA brutalized suspects and misled Congress. Putting aside such word substitutions of “brutalizing” for “torture” and “misleading” for “lying,” there remains one glaring omission: not a single CIA official was disciplined, let alone criminally charged. One official even publicly admitted to destroying evidence to avoid its use in court in a torture prosecution. He was allowed to retire with honors and accolades. The Bush and Obama Administration steadfastly refused to prosecute such officials. Indeed, soon after coming to power, Obama went to the CIA to assure officials that they would never face prosecution.
The document states to its credit that “This report tells a story of which no American is proud.” However, it then adds: “But it is also part of another story of which we can be proud. America’s democratic system worked just as it was designed to work in bringing an end to actions inconsistent with our democratic values.” Is this really how the system “was designed to work”? We are bound by treaty and federal law to investigate torture — a standard that we have applied to other nations. However, Obama kept his pledge to the CIA and moreover leaks have shown how the U.S. government threatened both Spain and England not to investigate American torture.
Now we have a celebration over the fact that we are willing to admit that the CIA committed such violations, including lying to Congress, while ignoring that no one was punished for these acts. Indeed, as we saw with the false statements given Congress over surveillance by James Clapper, there remains a pattern of protection for intelligence officials committing what many allege to be criminal acts like perjury.
I am impressed by the openness of the State Department under John Kerry on such issues. However, the disconnect with the absence of any accountability continues to erode the credibility of the country on human rights and civil liberties.
Notably, the State Department affirms again that no life-saving intelligence was actually produced from our torture of suspects. It still however refuses to call it by its proper and legal name: “[The Senate report] leaves no doubt that the methods used to extract information from some terrorist suspects caused profound pain, suffering and humiliation. It also leaves no doubt that the harm caused by the use of these techniques outweighed any potential benefit.”
The report does acknowledge obvious questions that continue to lack any real answer from the Administration:
“Doesn’t the report make clear that at least some who authorized or participated in the RDI program committed crimes?”
“Will the Justice Department revisit its decision not to prosecute anyone?”
“Until now the (U.S. government) has avoided conceding that the techniques used in the RDI program constituted torture. Now that the report is released is the White House prepared to concede that people were tortured?”
“Isn’t it clear that the CIA engaged in torture as defined in the Torture Convention?”
The mere fact that these questions even appeared in such a report is a triumph for Kerry and a positive development. It also admits that some ambassadors who were informed of the use of torture at black sites were instructed not to tell their superiors at the State Department.
I do believe that the State Department and John Kerry deserve credit for this frank discussion. It is the type of action that will help to restore our position in the world. However, we will never regain our position as the world’s leader on human rights and civil liberties if we continue to shield our own officials for accountability for such actions.