Senator Dianne Feinstein speaks to the media after delivering the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee report
While the United States Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s torture program focuses on what is now a specific historical period — the week after 9/11 through until November 2007, when the last victim was tortured, this is not a historical document. Nor is it a portrait of a powerful agency gone rogue. It is the simply the way the War on Terror has always worked, and works still: government agencies, politicians and private contractors working closely in a self-perpetuating cycle of power with little transparency and profound abuse.
“Kafkaesque” doesn’t even begin to describe much of the contents of this report. Gul Rahman, the Afghan “case of mistaken identity”, who froze to death in the notorious “salt pit”, after which the responsible officer was not merely not reprimanded or punished, but got a bonus. The enterprising ex-military psychologists who scored the payday of their lives when they set up a company that got US$80 million, and legal indemnity, to run the torture program — and they got to evaluate themselves into the bargain. The vile former CIA director Michael Hayden launching an inquiry into the CIA’s own Office of Inspector General because it kept asking questions about the torture program. The Bush White House demanding then-secretary of state Colin Powell be kept out of the loop because he would “blow his stack” if he knew of the torture program. The CIA officer lamenting that the awful quality of the staff sent to help him run the torture program, including officers with histories of violence, was leading to “mediocre” and “useless” intelligence.
And most of all, something the report doesn’t even touch on: that not one person — from the most senior Bush administration officials who approved torture, down to the lowest-ranked officials who, in many cases, significantly exceeded what they were allowed to do even by the CIA’s own rules — has been prosecuted or jailed for a program that tortured an innocent man to death, kidnapped and tortured other innocent people, and significantly damaged the interests of the United States.
None — except just one man, former CIA officer and whistleblower John Kiriakou, who is currently in jail as part of US President Barack Obama’s war on whistleblowers. Everyone who approved and/or engaged in torture walked free, but the guy who blew the whistle is in jail.
But then, Obama — he of the “we tortured some folks” admission — is the one who decided that there would be no prosecutions for Bush-era torture, despite calling for exactly that when he was a presidential candidate and banning torture (by then discontinued) when he became president.
And despite the thorough nature of the report (the redacted executive summary is over 500 pages long; the actual report, which will likely never see the light of day, is several thousand pages), there are still many who defend the torture program. The CIA itself today would only admit to “mistakes”, “shortcomings” and failing to meet its own “high standards”. Bush administration officials, including Bush himself, have leapt to the agency’s, and their own, defence. Congressional Republicans, including the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, have angrily denounced the release of the report and warned that its release is likely to anger people outside the US and lead to violence.
And even if the CIA is no longer torturing people, innocent or otherwise, the same elements that created the nightmare of this outsourced program of absurdity lie at the heart of the continuing War on Terror. The sense of American exceptionalism that justifies any actions against others; the willing complicity of US allies (including Australia); the near-complete lack of transparency about what intelligence agencies are doing, which fosters abuse and incompetence; the lack of any effective evaluation of whether programs are achieving their purported goals; the massive handouts of taxpayer money to the private sector; the use of outsourcing to diffuse responsibility; the remarkable American capacity to continually infuriate targeted communities overseas in a way that guarantees a steady supply of angry, radicalised individuals; the adherence to and repetition of tactics and strategies that demonstrably don’t work, and that agencies themselves know don’t work; the casual killing and injuring of innocent people; and the willingness of politicians, in the name of national security, to forgive any abuse — indeed, to actively participate in covering up abuse and punishing anyone who reveals it.
All of these are present in the torture program and all continue to be on display in US programs of mass surveillance that have stopped no terrorist attacks and the drone strike programs that slaughter so many civilians. And they are recurring again in the new war in Iraq, which is benefiting no one but large US defence contractors.
The torture program was not the result of a rogue agency acting in a way that was at odds with American values; it was a living, pure embodiment of exactly those values as they now exist in the era of the War on Terror.