FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Red Line of Torture

After I blew the whistle on the CIA’s torture program in 2007, the fallout for me was brutal. To make a long story short, I served nearly two years in federal prison and then endured a few more months of house arrest.

What happened to the torture program? Nothing.

Following years of waiting for the government to do something, I was heartened when I read in my prison cell — in a four-day-old copy of The New York Times — that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had finally released in December a heavily censored summary of its report on the CIA’s brutal “enhanced interrogation” techniques.

Finally, I thought, Congress will do something about our government’s shameful embrace of torture. It was big news — for two or three days.

I thought there’d be quick action by courageous members of both parties who respect human rights and civil liberties. I thought they’d work together to ensure that our collective name would never again be sullied by torture — that we’d respect our own laws and the international laws and treaties to which we’re signatories.

In retrospect, I was naïve, even after having served in the CIA for nearly 15 years and as a Senate committee staffer for several more.

Despite repeated efforts by the CIA to impede investigations into its conduct, the report confirmed that the program was even worse than most Americans had thought.

Take the case of Ammar al-Baluchi, who was arrested in Pakistan and sent to a secret CIA prison, where interrogators held his head under water, beat him repeatedly with a truncheon, and slammed his head against the wall, causing lasting head trauma.

This abuse wasn’t authorized by the Justice Department. So why weren’t the perpetrators charged with a crime?

Perhaps worst of all, CIA officers tortured as many as 26 people who were probably innocent of any ties to terrorism.

Sadly, the report’s release didn’t lead to any action by the White House or the Justice Department. The architects of the program haven’t been held accountable. Nor have those who clearly violated the law by torturing prisoners without any legal justifications. Why should the government have locked me up for telling the truth and given them full impunity?

But there’s still time for President Barack Obama to order the Justice Department to prosecute these perpetrators of torture. And there’s a clear precedent in how the government has confronted similar actions in the past.

In 1968, for example, The Washington Post published a photo of a U.S. soldierwaterboarding a North Vietnamese prisoner. The Defense Department investigated the incident, court-martialed the soldier, and convicted him of torture.

Why should the Senate’s torture report elicit less response than a photograph? It was wrong in 1968 to commit torture. It’s still wrong — and prosecutable — in 2015.

Some current and former CIA leaders will argue that torture netted actionable intelligence that saved American lives. I was working in the CIA’s counterterrorism center at the same time they were, and I can tell you that they’re lying.

Torture may have made some Americans feel better in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. It may have made them feel that the government was avenging our fallen compatriots. But the report found that “the harsh interrogation methods did not succeed in exacting useful intelligence.”

Whether or not it ever gleans useful intelligence, however, is beside the point. The question isn’t whether torture works. Torture is immoral.

There has to be a red line: The United States of America must oppose torture and ban its use absolutely. That begins in the Oval Office, and Obama needs to belatedly do something about it.

John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. He’s a former CIA counterterrorism officer and former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

This article was first published by  Foreign Policy In Focus and OtherWords

More articles by:

January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail