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Looking At The International Reaction, Condemnation Of The CIA 'Torture Report'

U.S. Army Military Police escort a detainee to his cell in Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention facility on Jan. 11, 2002.
Photographers Mate 1st Class Shane T. McCoy
U.S. Department of Defense
U.S. Army Military Police escort a detainee to his cell in Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention facility on Jan. 11, 2002.

On Tuesday the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a 525-page report detailing the use of enhanced interrogation techniques against detainees in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This so-called torture report describes the CIA’s extensive waterboarding, rectal feeding, and up to 180 hours of forced sleep deprivation.

It concludes the CIA’s tactics proved entirely ineffective. It also states that the CIA tried to cover up this fact by systematically misleading both government officials and the press.

International condemnation has been swift, says Rebecca Cruise, a security studies and a comparative politics expert at the University of Oklahoma.

“The UN Special Rapporteur for Counterterrorism and Human Rights is actually calling for legal action against some of the Bush administration officials that are implicated in this, and CIA officials as well,” Cruise says.

Under the terms of the UN Convention Against Torture, the United States is obligated to investigate and prosecute those involved in the CIA’s program.

Cruise says it’s doubtful those individuals will face severe punishment in the United States.

“There are perhaps legal proceedings that will come out of this, some talk about prosecuting those involved, though the United States is not going to give up those people,” Cruise says. “So it may prevent them from travelling.”

The findings of the torture report as well as the US’s response have severely undermined the country’s reputation and credibility as a global leader in human rights.

“China's state news agency said the following: ‘America is neither a suitable role model nor a qualified judge of human rights issues in other countries as it pretends to be. Yet despite this, people rarely hear the US talking about its own problems, preferring to be vocal on the issues it sees in other countries, including China,’” Cruise says. “So it's an issue of legitimacy.”

Joshua Landis, the Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and author of the popular blog Syria Comment, says that maintaining this legitimacy is extremely important.

“We learn every generation, every war, that the veneer of civilization on human brutality or animalness, I don't know what to call it, is thin,” Landis says. “And once you break it, the spiral down to barbarity is very quick and fast. And that's why a country like America, which tries to hold these higher standards, needs to protect the ramparts of this civility and not allow itself to descend.”

Landis says that the CIA’s policy of torture and detention has already had a significant impact on the formation of terrorist groups like ISIS.

“The head of ISIS, [Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi, was for several years in an American prison, Camp Bucca, in Iraq, along with many of his top lieutenants,” Landis says. “They were all in that prison together. This was a galvanizing experience for them.”

That experience has translated into new tactics.

“We’ve already seen with ISIS the killing of Foley and other reporters put in orange jumpsuits,” Landis says. “This was a direct rubbing-it-in-our-faces for things like Guantanamo and the other prisons. They were copying us.”

The release of the Senate torture report is an important step, Landis says. But more needs to be done to uphold reputation of the United States if it wants to maintain its global position.

“Obviously 9/11 was a brutal thing. We were frightened, and a lot of people have said, ‘Well, we had to do this, we were frightened, we were attacked.’” Landis says. “But it’s under that kind of stress and strain that when you can maintain some sort of standard and not get down into the dirt with your enemies that you separate yourself from everybody else.”

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