Whitewashing CIA Torture: 'We Are (Not So) Awesome' After All
11 January 2015
By Ramzy Baroud
"This is not who we are. This is not how we operate,"
were the words of President Barack Obama commenting on
the grisly findings of a long-awaited congressional
report on the use of torture by the US Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA).
But what if this is exactly who we are?
The report is difficult to read, not just because it
is awfully long - hundreds of pages of a summary of a
nearly 6,000-page investigation, including 38,000
citations based on the review of six million pages -
but because it was most disturbing. Parts of it
resemble the horror of an extremely dark Hollywood
movie. But it was all real: from rectal feeding (as in
putting hummus in detainee's rectums), to rape, to
torturing prisoners to death, to blinding prisoners,
to forcing them to stand on broken feet, for days. It
is beyond ghastly.
Also, it was all useless. Even worse, it is strongly
believed that the torture dungeons - many of which
were outsourced to other countries, including 25 in
Europe, including the democracy and human
rights-touting Britain - have achieved little but
fabricated information. What else can an innocent man
say when there is nothing to say? He can lie, hoping
that maybe such lies would save his life.
Of course, aging accused war criminals like former
Vice President, Dick Cheney, were quick to dismiss the
report and its detailed brutal interrogation tactics
as "full of crap".
Without a shred of remorse, he told Fox News Channel
on 10 December, a day after the report was released:
"What happened here was that we asked the agency to go
take steps and put in place programs that were
designed to catch the bastards who killed 3,000 of us
on 9/11 and make sure it never happened again, and
that's exactly what they did."
It matters little that these "steps" killed innocent
people, violated US and international law, and,
equally important, lead to nothing but confessions
under the duress of torture.
Cheney's complete disregard for human rights and
international law is not the exception, but very much
defines US attitude towards seemingly unimportant
matters as law and due process in its most destructive
so-called war on terror. His attitude was echoed
repeatedly by many others, who insist on the US's
moral superiority, yet without providing a shred of
evidence to validate such an assertion.
Although one is relieved that the truth was, at least
partly, laid bare, thanks to the persistent efforts of
members in the Senate Intelligence Committee, the
resulting discourse is still disturbing. Aside from
the fact that top officials insist that there will be
no prosecution for the war criminals, the language of
President Obama and others promise little soul
"This is not who we are," said Obama.
Yet, John O. Brennan, the director of the CIA, still
defended the agency's use of the brutal tactics in
American gulags, "sidestepping questions about whether
agency operatives tortured anyone," according to the
New York Times.
"The ‘lunch tray' for one detainee, which contained
hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins, ‘was
‘pureed' and rectally infused," the report said.
"This is not how we operate," Obama said. But how do
"we" exactly operate when the report was the outcome
of 6 million documents? That is 6,000,000. There can
no longer be a "few bad apples" argument made here, as
the horrors of Abu Ghraib were once justified.
These practices were carried out for years and
involved numerous personnel, numerous prisons and many
countries that included almost the entirety of Europe,
and some of the biggest human rights violators on
earth, including Middle Eastern and African countries.
It was financed by a mammoth budget, and continues to
be defended, brazenly by those who ordered them, who
are unlikely to see their day in court.
Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne
Feinstein, was adamant in her rejection of CIA
torture. The program was "morally, legally and
administratively misguided (and) far more brutal than
people were led to believe," she told the Senate.
Fair enough. But then this torture program is "a stain
on our values and on our history."
There is this stubborn insistence on highlighting the
same kind of moral superiority, contrary to all
evidence. But isn't the whole so-called war on terror,
and the continued American military involvement in the
Middle East, the lethal unmanned drone program, which
has killed thousands, the unconditional support for
Israel and all sorts of oppressive regimes, and much
more, all "morally, legally and administratively
Between Cheney's bullying attitude and Obama's/Feinstein's,
which claims that the massive, outsourced program is
merely a "stain" on otherwise perfect American values,
the report is unlikely to change much. Justice is
unlikely to be served.
There can be no serious rethink and moral awakening
without talking full responsibility, not just of vile
torture tactics, but the entirety of the US's
misguided foreign policy which is predicated on
violence, and lots of it.
"I will leave to others how they might want to label
these activities," Brennan said.
The report indicated that detainees were tortured
before they were even asked to cooperate. How does one
label that Mr. Brennan? Even by the logic of those who
torture, such tactics are senseless.
Should some insist on the old, tired "few bad apples"
argument, the report indicated that in "Detention Site
Green" CIA interrogators objected to the continued use
of torture, before they were told to carry on by their
seniors. No few bad apples. The whole barrel is
There can be no justification to what the US has done,
not just against suspects in its global wars, but
against entire nations, who were completely innocent
of any involvement in any terror attacks on 11
September, prior or after that date.
But CIA torture being a "stain" on an otherwise
flawless record doesn't suffice either. In fact, in
some way, this logic is the heart of the problem,
since it blocks any attempt at honest reading of
whatever "values" Washington stands for, and tries to
achieve, using "soft diplomacy" of "rectal feeding".
What is equally worrying to what the report has
contained is the existing mindset in the US, among the
ruling class and the media.
This reality can be best summarised in the words of a
Fox News show co-host, Andrea Tantaros: "The United
States of America is awesome, we are awesome," she
"The reason they want to have this discussion is not
to show how awesome we are. This administration wants
to have this discussion to show us how we're not
With such overriding thoughtless mindset, there is
little evidence to show that such "awesomeness" will
cease anytime soon, even if at the expense of many
- Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated
columnist, a media consultant, an author and the
founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is
My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story
(Pluto Press, London).