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CIA torture is no surprise to Arabs and Muslims

The idea that Arabs and Muslims are unaware of American abuses is ridiculous, as they have long been at the receiving end of these violations

As with Abu Ghraib and other atrocities committed by American troops, the new US Senate report on CIA torture under the Bush administration has made waves in the West, but not in the Arab and Muslim worlds, whose peoples have long been at the receiving end of such violations.

That is perhaps why at the time of this writing, there has been no widespread rioting or attacks against American targets since the report's release, for it has not been a revelation, but rather business as usual to Arabs and Muslims. At this stage, it is a wonder that anyone is still surprised by American military conduct, and that this is still portrayed by some as a case of a few bad apples.

President Barack Obama says torture is "inconsistent with our values", but Arabs and Muslims have, from experience, come to associate those very values with torture, and with it the hypocrisy that comes with repeated American denials. The Senate report, which describes CIA torture as "far more brutal than people were led to believe", is but the latest example of the entire tree being rotten, and of abuse inherent in unrivalled military power.

Those who believe that this is no longer the case following Obama's banning in 2009 of the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques", should note that the report highlights systemic deceit regarding the use and nature of such techniques, as well as their effectiveness (or lack thereof).

If we were lied to for all of these years, why should we be so sure that the dishonesty will stop now? The CIA even secretly searched the computers of those involved in producing the Senate report. Evidently, it did not want the truth to come out. The same can be said of the Obama administration, which withheld more than 9,000 top-secret documents sought by the Senate committee that produced the report.


No one has ever been held accountable for the CIA's torture program, and American officials have already said following the report's publication that there will be no prosecutions, despite such calls by the UN and human rights groups. This sends a dangerous message that torture, whether it is continued or renewed in the future, will go unpunished.

That does not bode well for Obama's call to "leave these techniques where they belong - in the past". What would he have us believe still goes on in Guantanamo Bay? It remains open and beyond scrutiny despite his pledge during his first presidential campaign to close the detention centre.

Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, said: "As a matter of international law, the US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice." That means the highest echelons of government, including then-president George W Bush, his vice president Dick Cheney, and his defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Cheney said following the Senate report's release that Bush had been "fully informed". Not that Cheney is hanging Bush out to dry - on the contrary. He and other former officials remain unapologetic, as is the CIA. Republicans have also cynically portrayed the Senate report as partisan propaganda by the Democrats (despite the Obama administrations' lack of cooperation with the report, and its refusal to hold anyone accountable).

As with other examples of US brutality, publication of the report has been condemned for allegedly risking American lives and interests. This argument is as offensive as the atrocities documented.

Surely the most effective way of safeguarding American lives and interests is to not violate other peoples' human rights, rather than cover up those violations. The idea that Arabs and Muslims would otherwise be unaware of such abuses is, frankly, ridiculous. If anything, they are acutely aware that whatever revelations do surface, they are most likely the tip of the iceberg.

Foreign collaboration

The Senate report is heavily redacted, so the true extent of CIA torture is still not fully known. Neither is the extent of other countries' collaboration in capturing, detaining, transporting and torturing suspects. These include Middle Eastern states with odious human rights records, including some - such as Syria and Iran - that are outwardly hostile to the US.

"This is what hasn't been written into the Senate's report: an account of how detainees were treated by foreign security forces," said Sam Raphael, co-founder of the Rendition project, which investigates US-led rendition and detention since 2001. "In many cases they were treated far more brutally than they were inside the CIA program."

This provides a major potential loophole for the US, which could rely (covertly, of course) on other countries to torture detainees while claiming that it has clean hands. Governments that have collaborated with the US in this regard have benefited from Washington turning a blind eye to their own abuses. CIA torture has also emboldened countries to repress their own populations while ignoring American criticism or mocking it as hypocritical.

But hypocrisy goes both ways. North Korea, China, Iran, the Islamic State and other serial human rights violators are taking the Senate report as an opportunity to condemn American brutality. The double tragedy is that the US has not only committed widespread and appalling abuses, but has encouraged repressive regimes worldwide to do the same.

Given American reaction to the report, and the US's terrible human rights record abroad, one would be naive to think that the Senate report marks the end of a dark chapter. Arabs and Muslims in particular are not sitting any more comfortably following its publication.

Sharif Nashashibi is an award-winning journalist and analyst on Arab affairs. He is a regular contributor to Al Arabiya News, Al Jazeera English, The National, and The Middle East magazine. In 2008, he received an award from the International Media Council "for both facilitating and producing consistently balanced reporting" on the Middle East.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A wax replica of the finger torture screw is pictured at the German Hygiene museum in Dresden in October 2014 (AFP PHOTO / DPA/ MATTHIAS HIEKEL /GERMANY OUT) 

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