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On Torture, How Much Proof Is Enough?

It seems it doesn’t matter how many facts are revealed
by Bonnie Tamres-Moore

Dec 11, 2014 | Blog



The heavily redacted synopsis of the 6,800 page Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA and torture came out on December 9, 2014. It’s available for everyone to read. It’s important to note what we are learning that’s new.

  • We already knew that Gul Rahman froze to death in the “The Salt Pit,” referred to as “Cobalt” in the report; we didn’t know that the man who ordered him chained naked to the floor and left there received a $2,500 bonus for his “superior work.”
  • We already knew that the CIA waterboarded Khalid Sheik Mohamed (KSM) 183 times; we didn’t know that his torturer could snap his fingers and KSM would “come like a dog” to be waterboarded.
  • We already knew that the CIA tortured innocent people; we didn’t know they tortured two of their own informants.
  • We already knew that we forced prisoners to defecate on themselves, or into a container; we didn’t know there was actual behavior they could exhibit to “earn the bucket.”
  • We already knew what “enhanced interrogation techniques” were (the government has provided helpful lists); we didn’t know one was anal rape.

It is these small details in the report that perform the greatest public service. They grab us in the most fearsome part of our imagination. The cumulative depravity of the CIA’s treatment of unnamed prisoners in unnamed places points us towards a larger set of now indisputable truths.

We tortured people; we lied about it.

We tortured people we thought were innocent; we lied about the numbers of people we tortured and the way in which we tortured them.

The CIA lied to congress. President Bush, when he said “we don’t torture,” lied to us.

Most importantly of all, we’ve been lying to ourselves for 14 years about America’s sad descent into torture.

It seems it doesn’t matter how many facts are revealed. It’s just not enough.

So what exactly would be the proofiest proof about our use of torture ? What exactly would do the trick?

Would it be the Red Cross reports released to Mark Danner, award-winning writer for The New York Review of Books, in 2009? The Senate Armed Services Committee Report on the military and torture released in 2008? The FBI reports from Guantanamo, first published in 2006? Government documents from the Office of Legal Council and the Pentagon, first released in 2004 by (again) Mark Danner in his book Torture and Truth?

Are the 6 million internal CIA documents used to compile the Senate Intelligence Committee report sufficient?

Maybe the 93 tapes of prisoner interrogations destroyed by CIA’s Jose Rodriguez in 2005 would have been enough proof. Were the photographs of broken Iraqi men in U.S. custody at Abu Ghraib Prison in 2004 not sufficient? Maybe the tapes of force-feeding in Guantanamo, still, at this point, successfully withheld by the Obama administration will be enough.

Documentation is not the issue here and it hasn’t been for a long time. We don’t need additional facts to convince us that we have tortured people brutally, illegally and immorally.

There has been an endless amount of evidence accumulating in big and little fetid piles for years.

We don’t need the answers about our use of torture. We have them. We just can’t handle the proof.

—Bonnie Tamres-Moore
December 11, 2014

Bonnie Tamres-Moore is an anti-torture activist working with Interfaith Action for Human Rights.

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  1. Since the U.S. doesn’t belong to the ICC it depends on other countries that do to indict; do you think any will have the courage to do so, thus angering the ever-so-powerful U.S, whether hated, envied, whatever, but still feared because of trade and because of fear itself?

    Thank you endlessly for your own courage in publishing the truth. I wish I could say I have hope for change but I don’t.

    Marianna Lee

    • Although we are not part of the ICC, America can be prosecuted in the ICC. Other countries that are members, like Afghanistan, are places where the US has used torture. The US may be prosecuted for its use of torture in a country that is a member of the ICC. This is politically unlikely, but pressure for international prosecution of America is increasing.

      As the US continues to refuse to prosecute its nationals for torture, the refusal itself, in the face of shocking evidence of torture, will be more compelling.

      The United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which we are signatory, obliges other signatories to prosecute when a member country refuses to prosecute its citizens responsible for torture.

  2. Thank you for the list of what we knew and what we just found out. That says who and what we are very well.

    The CIA are all just employees of the President, and if the President says “Jump”, they’ll ask “How high and how far?”

    The CIA would NEVER do something like this on their own — taking over Guantanamo, Abu Graib and all the rest, setting up millions of dollars of expenses and lots of “experts” to give them guidance in doing all these torture things. NO 3rd thru 5th level government employees would dare to do something like this secretly — from their higher-ups.

    What’s happening now is exactly what CiA predicted.  Why? This isn’t the first time they have been hung out to dry by Presidents of the US. And all of the Rove/Cheney/Bush assurances of “Oh no — you’ll be so successful NO one will EVER complain about what you do to these damned enemy terrorists” are the same thing they’ve faced from other Presidents. Just the words and situations are different but they are still the mostly secret arm of every President’s foreign policy being put into action by order of the President — again.

    The CIA’s role, at the moment, is to be the Fall Guys and play some version of “mia culpa”  so Rove/Cheney/Bush don’t get blamed. It’s their role. Expect lots of prevaricating and a few mid-level CIA get fired — plus (maybe) a fairly high level one (or maybe two) and it will all fade into the background. It’s called “give the public their scapegoat”. Remember Lynndie England ? (google her) She was a private, and her courts marshal basically made all the torture her fault (Our National Scapegoat)– until the Senate brought it up again.

    Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfield and the rest of the Neocons are the guilty ones. Bush, of course is guilty of being their puppet to dance and cavort on the public stage, reading the speeches written for him.  The Neocons won’t sacrifice him because he would sing.

    And lastly, i think that the reason this is making a lot of public noise is that it comes from the highest officialdom below the President — a Senate committee chaired by a senior (loyalist) Senator. This give the stamp of official recognition to what was happening. And it proves again that we aren’t the fierce independents we claim to be, but we are followers of the highest levels of officialdom……………………..damn

  3. The Constitution declares that it and treaties signed by the president and ratified by Congress are the law of the land. One of those treaties is the Convention Against Torture, Inhuman and Other Degrading Treatment. The Convention states: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.” Article 12 states: “Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committee in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

    To be a lawful nation under our Constitution, all those suspected of having anything to do with torture must be investigated and if warranted prosecuted or they must be extradited to a lawful nation that will prosecute them.

  4. What is truly shameful is those that say this release of information may cause some sort of retribution or backlash. We should never allow a secret agenda in the name of a false security. Why not show the world who we really are or were or what we stand for? Perhaps our collective mindset needs a push in a new direction. Respect must be earned, not forced on people or nations. Think big and help create a new world reality by setting a moral example.

    • I think it’s shameful that the “watchdog” media that has become lapdog did not report this earlier. Jane Myers in “The Dark Side,” and Ron Susskind in “The One-Percent Doctrine” mention the torture but the “news” media did not follow up and now many of the media are defending the torturers as though it was not the crime or the coverup that was harmful and possibly dangerous to America but the reporting of the crime and coverup. I think terrorists and countries from which suspects were kidnapped or tortured already knew more than the American public knows now. We must not allow the media to flush this down the memory hole.

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