World reacts to CIA torture report with anger, apathy

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By: Rana Harbi

Published Friday, December 12, 2014

A scathing US Senate report on the CIA’s torture of detainees as part of the so-called “War on Terror” spurred condemnation from US allies and enemies alike, and was seen by many as proof of American hypocrisy.

The graphic report, which exposed acts of torture committed between 2001 and 2009, elicited a torrent of reactions across the globe, including severe criticism from the United Nations and regional and domestic human rights groups who demanded that officials involved be brought to justice.

Governments often reprimanded by Washington for human rights violations accused the US of holding a double standard on human rights at home and abroad, while some US allies who were involved in the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" either downplayed any role their governments might have had or gave a muted response to the report.

US Hypocrisy

In a report released on December 9 by Human Rights Watch, the rights group pointed out that the United Nations Committee against Torture and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture have clearly stated that the “enhanced techniques,” authorized by the US Department of Justice, constituted torture.

Nonetheless, the Justice Department indicated that lifting the impunity for those accused of torture was very unlikely, and many current and former US officials argued that the techniques used were not torture.

According to HRW, “the claims of those who argue these techniques did not constitute torture” are in huge contradiction with past US statements, drawn from the US Department of State’s annual Human Rights Reports, criticizing other countries for using those very same techniques.

China, Iran and North Korea, regularly under fire for their human rights records, prodded Washington on its methods.

China

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei accused Washington of mudslinging, hypocrisy and double standards.

"The United States has no right to proclaim itself a judge and wilfully make irresponsible remarks on other countries' human rights situation," Hong said, adding that “it is known to all that there are racial prejudice and torture and other serious violations of human rights within the United States.”

Hong then said that "the US side shuts its eyes to the basic facts and slings mud at China. This can only reveal the hypocrisy and double standards of the US on human rights issues.”

Hong asserted that “China has consistently opposed torture,” saying “the US side should reflect upon itself, correct its ways and earnestly respect and abide by the rules of international conventions.”

Iran

Similarly, Iran, often hit with severe human rights criticism from the US over its theocratic government, accused the US of “tyranny” and “deception.”

A Twitter account associated with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the report corroborated Iran’s view of the US government as a "symbol of tyranny against humanity."

Meanwhile, Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham said that the most worrisome issue was that the US administration hadn’t taken any steps to ensure that such crimes don’t occur again.

“The contents of that shocking report reveal the undercover, aggressive, extremist nature of the American security apparatus that has become a part of its character,” Iran’s news agency quoted Afkham as saying.

North Korea

North Korea's Foreign Ministry accused the United Nations of ignoring "inhuman torture practiced by the CIA" while focusing too much on Pyongyang's human rights practices.

Scrutinizing North Korea's rights record while "shutting its eyes" to rights violations by one of its permanent members, would confirm the UN Security Council's "miserable position" as a "tool for US arbitrary practices," a foreign ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by the North's official KCNA news agency.

"If (the Security Council) wants to discuss the human rights issue, it should call into question the human rights abuses rampant in the US," the spokesman declared.

Russia

Russia, often scolded by the US over its human rights record, accused Washington of “systematically violating human rights” and called on the international community and human rights organizations to ensure Washington prosecuted those responsible.

“The report is in huge contradiction with US claims of it being an ‘example of democracy’,” Konstantin Dolgov, Russian foreign ministry’s commissioner for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, said in a statement published on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website.

According to Dolgov, the published report is merely an executive summary “edited by [US President] Barack Obama’s administration.”

“The bulk of the report remains classified,” he said, urging “human rights groups and international organizations to pressure Washington into disclosing all information regarding human rights abuses” committed under the pretext of the fighting “terrorism.”

Dolgov said the US continues to commit crimes in multiple “black sites,” including “the notorious Guantanamo prison where many inmates have been held for 13 years without any charges and court rulings.”

US allies: shocked or muted reactions

According to a 2013 report by the Open Society Foundation (OSF), 54 foreign governments supported the CIA’s program of extraordinary rendition.

Of those 54, eleven were Middle Eastern states and 25 were European countries.

Arab countries

The most common destinations for rendered suspects, according to the OSF report, were Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan.

Middle East Eye quoted Kingston University lecturer Sam Raphael as saying that “the degree to which those governments were involved in actual torturing of suspects varied.”

Some Arab states, such as Egypt, captured suspects on the CIA’s behalf and handed detainees over to the agency while others, like Jordan, violently interrogated detainees on the CIA's behalf, Raphael said.

As expected, authorities across the Arab world chose to remain silent about the report.

Egypt, where the US rendered scores of prisoners under Hosni Mubarak and where the government continues to torture Egyptian dissidents with impunity, gave a muted response to the report.

However, Egyptian social media users slammed America as “barbaric,” while also criticizing their own government’s complicity.

An Egyptian Twitter user said, “After seeing the report on CIA torture of detainees to elicit confession, I became convinced that Egypt is the professor and department chair of torture, next to America. We have more hideous things in our prisons than the CIA.”

Even though at least two prisoners mentioned in the report came from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Gulf countries, Middle Eastern media outlets from the oil-rich kingdoms either ignored the report entirely or chose to keep silence on key parts.

For many people across the Arab and Muslim world, the report was “old news.” From Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and black sites, to rendition programs and arbitrary detentions, the truth behind the US "War on Terror" has been clear for years.

"Arabs were angry about US torture in Iraq 10 years ago, so if anything this seems rather quaint, that the Americans are having a real public debate about this 10 years after the fact," Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Center for Middle East Policy, told Associated Press.

“The legacy of this torture has been that for the past 13 years we’ve seen people being dressed in orange suits and executed, whether it’s Iraqi groups during the first occupation by America or whether it’s Iraqi groups now under (ISIS),” former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg told the BBC.

"Torture is a crime, rendition … false imprisonment, they're crimes. If you or I were to do those to anybody we'd be prosecuted by the full weight of the law. Why is it that the Americans who did this have been granted immunity?"

Afghanistan

Of the “black sites” identified in the report, four were in Afghanistan, including the notorious “Salt Pit” located outside Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base.

“I remember how almost a decade ago US officials responded to allegations of US torture in Afghanistan with a blend of hypocrisy and disingenuous denial – the same reaction many US policymakers showed us yesterday,” HRW Afghanistan senior researcher Patricia Gossman said.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, said the revelations of the Senate report “trampled all the accepted principles of human rights, laws of the United States and accepted international morals.”

“The Afghan government condemns these inhumane acts in the strongest possible terms,” Ghani said at a specially-convened press conference at the presidential palace in Kabul. "There can be no justification for these kinds of actions and inhumane torture in today's world.”

“This report shows that our fellow countrymen have unfortunately been tortured and had their rights violated,” he said, adding that some of them “were proven to be entirely innocent.”

Pakistan

According to local Pakistani media, the Pakistani government neither commented nor responded to requests for comment.

But Malik Mohammed Rafique Rajwana, a member of the Pakistan Senate's defense committee, said the torture was a severe crime that should be taken to the International Court of Justice.

"You can't pick up people, do what you want, then after some time disclose it and go away just because you're powerful," he said. "It's a slap in the face of the civilized world."

Sarah Bilal, a lawyer representing the families of Pakistani detainees at Bagram, said the report was "unsurprising.”

"It is not surprising to us that they have tortured, we have known this for years with the detainees coming out from Bagram. I am hoping that because of this report at least that there is going to be prosecution and people are going to be held accountable. Otherwise it won't mean anything," she added.

Former Pakistani inmate Kamil Shah told AFP in April that the report, which has triggered worldwide condemnation, was little comfort for the five years he spent in Bagram.

"What's the benefit of the report? Will the US compensate the victims?" Shah said by telephone. "They arrested innocent people, put them in dark cells and tortured them for five, 10, 15 years and now they are saying they were wrong."

Another Pakistani held as a "War on Terror" suspect, Islamic scholar Saad Iqbal Madni, said the treatment he suffered "can't be put into words."

"People don't do to animals what they do to us," he told AFP. "There is no doubt that after 9/11 America has wronged Muslims. But if you admit your wrongs, you should also try to make them right."

European countries: complicity in crime

According to the CIA report, Poland, Romania and Lithuania hosted "black sites,” while other European countries cooperated in organizing covert rendition flights, including Britain, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania.

European Commission spokeswoman Catherine Ray refused to comment on the possible involvement of several EU members. She did, however, comment on the report in general, describing it as a "positive step" in recognizing the program's failings.

"This report is a positive step in confronting publicly and critically the Central Intelligence Agency's detention and interrogation program,” she said, adding that the EU "condemns all forms of torture and ill-treatment, under any circumstances including in counter-terrorism."

President of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights (ELDH) Bill Bowring told Sputnik that “EU countries allegedly involved in torture or any human rights violations should be brought to justice.”

According to Bowring, senior officials in the United Kingdom were aware “of what was going on.”

Poland

Poland long denied allowing US intelligence to use a secret site in the country for interrogations, but on Wednesday former President Aleksander Kwasniewski acknowledged his government let US officials run a facility there.

However, when asked at a news conference if he knew what his NATO ally was doing there, he said: "About what the CIA was doing? No. Inside the site, no."

Kwasniewski said he raised Polish concerns over CIA activities in Poland face-to-face with Bush at the White House in 2003.

"I told Bush that this cooperation must end and it did end," Kwasniewski told local media.

The European Court of Human Rights slammed Poland in July for complicity in torture on its territory of a Palestinian and a Saudi, later sent to the notorious Guantanamo Bay base.

The court concluded Poland had cooperated in the CIA's notorious "rendition" program.

Lithuania

"If the information proves correct, Lithuania will have to take responsibility," President Dalia Grybauskaite said of allegations that it also hosted a secret CIA jail.

But Valdas Adamkus, Lithuania's president at the time, denied any knowledge of such facilities on Wednesday.

"I am still convinced that there had been no jails and no prisoners from there," Adamkus, now 88, told AFP.

Human rights activists said the Senate report confirmed suspicions that Saudi Mustafa al-Hawsawi was imprisoned at a secret CIA jail in Lithuania in 2005 and 2006.

In 2009, a Lithuanian parliamentary inquiry identified two sites that may have been used as CIA black sites.

But it noted that despite records showing CIA aircraft landed in Lithuania, it was not possible to say whether suspects were actually brought in.

"We will ask the American side to send us the original of this document," a spokesman for the prosecutors' office in Krakow, Piotr Kosmaty, said according to the PAP news agency. "It's the first document by a US government body so highly placed, and the Krakow prosecutors' office wants to use it for its investigation," he said.

UK

Most British officials chose to remain mute on the subject. However, rights groups have called for the government to take accountability for its involvement and complicity in the torture program.

The report itself is heavily redacted - there are no direct references to either of the UK’s intelligence agencies MI5 or MI6 in the 499-page summary.

There is also no mention of Diego Garcia, a UK-owned island in the Indian Ocean currently leased to the US, which has reportedly been a transfer point for CIA rendition flights.

This admission, combined with the revelation that the UK ambassador to the US met with members of the Senate committee who were involved in the report 21 times between 2012 and 2014, had led to concerns that the UK government lobbied the Senate in order to conceal the extent of its complicity.

“The Senate’s report is just the tip of the iceberg. Only a fraction of the victims of CIA renditions are named,” Reprieve’s head of communications, Donald Campbell said, adding that “among those who are absent from the public version of the report are two families who were ‘rendered’ by MI6 and the CIA to Gaddafi’s Libya in 2004.”

“The UK government still has serious questions to answer over the role it played in their ordeal,” he added. ”The government also needs to come clean over whether it lobbied the Senate committee to stop them publishing details of this shameful incident.”

Julia Hall, an expert on counter-terrorism and human rights who works for Amnesty International, said, “It’s glaringly obvious that the UK are missing from (the report), especially as they’re such a key ally … it’s staggering that the UK escaped any mention at all. My suspicion is this is the result of some very effective lobbying from the UK for the US to remain absent from the report.”

“If I were the other governments - Poland, Italy, Lithuania - I’d be rather unnerved by idea that they weren’t important enough and were thrown to the dogs. The UK must have been done some very aggressive lobbying to avoid mention.”

(Al-Akhbar, AFP)

Comments

Has England changed very much since it set up the Jewish state in Palestine to, as a former BBC producer told me, "get the Jews out of England"?

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