Darkness Visible: The View From Abroad

Ugh. On top of its illegality, moral bankruptcy, and utter uselessness, the torture program under the Cheney administration was a disaster for US foreign policy, providing grade-A propaganda fodder to our enemies and rivals, infecting our allies, and making it difficult for the US to be taken seriously as an advocate of human rights. The reactions to the Senate report from around the world make these depressing facts even more obvious. Here’s China, thumbing its nose at us:

State news agency Xinhua’s website dedicated a special page to coverage of the Senate report, titled: “How long can the US pretend to be a human rights champion?” A commentary carried by several mainland news portals, originally from the Beijing-backed Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao, said that while the excessive use of torture by the CIA had been widely known, the report showed some of the methods were “almost medieval”. Turning to the question of how its release would damage the social and constitutional values the US prides itself on, and whether it would cause the country’s moral high ground to erode more rapidly, the author said that in any case “so-called ‘human rights’ were merely a veil and the excuse to put pressure on others”. The report was a heavy blow to the credibility and global image of the US, it added.

Russia joins in:

“The information that has been publicized is yet another confirmation of gross and systemic human rights violations on the part of the American authorities. Despite the fact that this Inquisition-style torture was carried out by CIA agents outside U.S. territory, this does not exempt them from principal responsibility for such deliberate actions. Simultaneously, the question arises about the involvement in these crimes of the governments of those countries (their names have been prudently erased from the report) that agreed to host the secret prisons,”[said Konstantin Dolgov, Foreign Ministry Commissioner for Human Rights, Democracy, and the Rule of Law].

And jihadists are having a field day:

“Read [the Senate report] my brother and stick your shoe in the mouth of those who say that the Islamic State distorts Islam,” one Isis supporter tweeted. Another, a Syrian, wrote: “Getting beheaded is 100 times more humane, more dignified than what these filthy scumbags do to Muslims.” Hani al-Sibaei, a prominent radical Islamist scholar, commented: “American politicians consider CIA report on torture of Muslim detainees a disgrace to America! Damn you! Your entire history is a stain on the face of humanity.” Nabil Naim, a former Egyptian jihadi leader, announced that he was ready to raise a 10,000 strong force of suicide bombers to attack America. Isis itself issued no official response.

The torture apologists will spin this as proof that Dianne Feinstein is somehow giving aid and comfort to our enemies, but the fallacy at work here is so transparent as to barely merit a response. It was the architects of this program, not the people who brought its horrors to light, who handed this talking point to our enemies.

Then there’s the reaction from our allies and clients. Hanna Kozlowska reports on how officials in Poland, which hosted one of the CIA’s black sites, is responding to the news of just how dirty their hands are:

The report, which US president Barack Obama and Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz discussed ahead of its release, put Poland’s involvement back in the spotlight. At yesterday’s press conference, former president [Aleksander] Kwaśniewski conceded that the US had asked for a “quiet site” where they could “obtain information” from cooperative suspects. But neither he nor then-prime minister Leszek Miller, also at the press conference, said they were aware of the harshness of the interrogations. …

Among the new, alarming details revealed by the report is that the US offered Poland payment for its role in the CIA program after the detention site was up and running. According to the report, the CIA offered Poland an undisclosed sum and refused to sign an agreement with Poland outlining the CIA’s role and responsibilities at the site. Polish officials said at yesterday’s press conference that the memorandum included demands to guarantee humane treatment of the prisoners. “What country will respect us if it turns out that our authorities will agree to anything for several million dollars, even if it is against the Polish constitution?” Polish member of parliament Łukasz Gibała wrote on his Facebook page.

Poland was not the only European country complicit in the torture regime. Natalie Nougayrède wonders whether these countries will own up to it:

European countries failed to conduct effective investigations into the agencies and officials who facilitated the CIA’s work. Sweden is the only country to have paid compensation to victims of extraordinary renditions. Italy is the only country where officials have been convicted by a national court for their involvement in the CIA programme.


According to information compiled by Open Society Foundations, at least 54 governments cooperated with these CIA activities. Twenty-one of those are European, of which 17 were at the time members – or soon to become members – of the European Union. In addition to the countries above, the list of European states that were complicit in CIA rendition flights and other unlawful activities includes Lithuania (there are strong indications that this country also had a “black site”), the UK, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania.

While Canada’s Stephen Harper bragged that his country had nothing to do with the torture program, some Canadian intel experts say otherwise:

“It gives us a good conscience” to be able to deny participation in torture, but “it doesn’t take away the fact that we’re as guilty as them,” says Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior intelligence officer with CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. As Juneau-Katsuya sees it, Canada’s spy agencies have a tremendously close relationship with the CIA and probably had a pretty good idea how the intelligence was generated. Adds security expert Wesley Wark, “When Prime Minister Harper says it’s an American problem with an American issue with no Canadian ramifications, that’s not really accurate – or oversimplified on any number of fronts. We tapped that intelligence. We relied on that.”

In Afghanistan, where our abuse of detainees is coming under additional scrutiny from the ICC, President Ashraf Ghani didn’t mince words:

“This is a vicious cycle. When a person is tortured in an inhumane way, the reaction will be inhumane,” Ghani told a specially convened news conference in Kabul. “There can be no justification for these kinds of actions and inhumane torture in today’s world.” His announcement was a reminder of how the impact of a programme that was shut down in 2008 is still felt in Afghanistan – and how news of abusive detention still fuels anger. In part this is because it spawned a wider culture of abuse among other US security forces stationed in the country, human rights activists say, with reports of torture and extrajudicial killings by special forces as recently as last year.

Egypt’s government has remained tight-lipped, but the official line is leaking out:

Those who did react said the report highlighted the hypocrisy of the US, who have often condemned Egypt’s recent human rights abuses. “America cannot demand human rights reports from other countries when this proves they know nothing about human rights,” said a pro-regime television host, Tamer Amin, on his show.

However, not everyone was quick to denounce the torture program. The French far-right superstar and Putin admirer Marine Le Pen had this to say:

The rising leader of the Front National (FN) party said that she “did not condemn” the use of torture when questioning terror suspects, in an interview with BFMTV. “Of course [torture] can be used,” she said. “It’s been used throughout history.”

“I believe that the people responsible for getting information out of terror suspects that can save civilian lives do a responsible job,” she added. “There are times, such as if a bomb is about to go off, when it is useful to get a suspect to talk…by any means.” However, she later backtracked saying on Twitter that her words had been “misinterpreted”[.]

Unlikely that endorsement will be appearing in the CIA’s PR packet anytime soon.