With the release of the CIA report detailing torture methods in secret prisons, we are at a critical juncture with an opportunity to regain our nation’s credibility in the world. The acts described in the report are morally reprehensible and a direct affront to our American values and international human rights.
While Americans are disgusted over the details of the CIA report, those who promoted the politics of fear — including the CIA’s use of torture — following the attacks of September 11, 2001, have returned with a vengeance, uselessly attempting to protect their own political legacy. They are shamefully taking advantage of this situation to promote ineffective tools of what most Americans believe to be a bygone era. In addition to their inhumanity, these methods spread hatred, mistrust, and extremism worldwide while demonstratively doing nothing to bring those responsible to justice or reducing the number or frequency of terrorist attacks.
Now is the time to demonstrate true and historic moral leadership and correct the mistakes born out of the Bush-Cheney counterterrorism policies; including the CIA’s use of torture. The only significant results we saw from these Cheney-era policies were the fanning of the flames of extremists everywhere and the reduction of U.S. credibility and support around the world. Several non-partisan studies and terrorism indices conducted over the past few years have demonstrated a dramatic increase in global terrorist attacks targeting innocent civilians, including Americans and American interests, during and following the implementation of these policies. The CIA’s detention and torture program following September 11, 2001, was used by violent extremists as motivation for the successful increase in Al-Qaeda-sponsored attacks against Americans, American interests and allies all over the world.
We cannot win the struggle against violent extremism, including the fight against Al-Qaeda, without truly winning the hearts and minds of people around the world. This would be achieved most effectively by continuing to discredit Al-Qaeda’s ideology and methodology of hate and by investing in the prevention of terrorist safe-zones through increased non-military crisis intervention and open political engagement. Regaining the historic U.S. role as the primary enforcer of international human rights laws is vital in effectively achieving a victory against violent extremism.
The politically practical, yet false, assumption that should be challenged in the coming months is not the assumption that the Obama administration’s counterterrorism reforms are placing our nation at risk.
What needs to be challenged at maximum volume, by President Obama, by members of Congress, by every American, is the false assumption that the CIA’s detention and torture program was “successful.” It is the CIA’s detention and torture program, including the detentions at Guantanamo which continue today and remain unchanged since the Bush Administration, that did nothing to stop the increase in Al-Qaeda-sponsored or motivated attacks against Americans, American interests and allies in Bali, Casablanca, Islamabad, Istanbul, Madrid, Mumbai, London, Riyadh, and Tunis among others.
With the release of the CIA report and the Obama administration’s decision to launch a Department of Justice investigation, our nation is in a struggle for the definition of what it means to be America in an admittedly dangerous and sometimes hostile world. Our worst enemies are those few individuals, on all sides, who act based on their emotions and in response to perceived injustice or pending national tragedy. It is time we learn from our historical mistakes born out of the Bush-Cheney counterterrorism policies and understand once and for all that the politics of fear, including the use of torture, have no place in this magnificent mosaic, the nation of nations we call the United States of America.
KAREEM SHORA is National Executive Director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). He is also a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC).