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November 08, 2013

Allegations of Abuse Highlight Need for Torture Transparency

Yesterday, Rolling Stone magazine released a story by Matthieu Aikins detailing possible abuses committed by U.S. Green Berets and/or their translators in Afghanistan. This grisly account could be another in the long history of detainee abuse and torture by U.S. forces, contractors and intelligence personnel since 9/11. Right now, there is a battle brewing in the U.S. government over whether to release a report that details a significant part of that history, or to keep it hidden from the public.

The report, a 6,000-page, three-year effort undertaken by the Senate Intelligence Committee, delves into the secret history of the CIA interrogation and detention program after 9/11, a history littered with violations of international and domestic law including extraordinary rendition, abuse, and torture. The report is currently secret, pending approval by the Intelligence Committee. Perhaps expectedly, the CIA is fighting its release, and the White House is mostly choosing to stay out of the discussion.

This week, Major General Paul Eaton (Ret.) and Major General Antonio Taguba (Ret.) (who investigated the abuses at Abu Ghraib) published an opinion piece calling on the government to release the report to the public. They ask President Obama not to allow the CIA to get in the way, and also ask that the CIA response to the report be made public, so that the American public can make up their own minds about the use of torture. The danger of not being honest about our history of torture is clear. They write,

“Over the past few years, polls show that among Americans, support for torture is increasing. Absent a public accounting, it will most likely continue to grow. If torture comes to be seen as a mere policy preference rather than an egregious violation of American values, there is a good chance that a future president facing a security threat will again take the country to the dark side.”

The use of torture, though outlawed by President Obama’s second-day executive order, may be continuing. The following allegations from the Rolling Stone report:

“Farooq, the interpreter who had previously served with ODA 3124 in Uruzgan, says that he routinely witnessed abusive interrogations during his time with the A-Team, involving physical beatings with fists, feet, cables and the use of devices similar to Tasers. ‘Of course they beat people, they had to,’ he says. ‘Often, when we knew someone was guilty, they still refused to admit it or give us information, unless we beat them. It’s the intel sergeant’s job.’”

Releasing the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee report is a good step towards an honest and essential accounting of America’s dark history of torture.  Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, has said that the report reveals that the abuse “was far more systematic and widespread than we thought,” and that the techniques used were not reliable in obtaining essential intelligence.

The public should see these findings for themselves. Shining a light on America’s past abuses is essential to preventing future ones. It’s time to release the report.