The Torture Report and the End of U.S. Exceptionalism

It could be fortuitous or just another example of the utter contempt for international sensibilities that just a day before International Human Rights Day, the U.S. Senate released, its long suppressed report on the systematic violations of the human rights of hundreds of people it captured and tortured as part of its ‘war on terror’. However, in light of the behavior of the U.S. government since 9/11, I suspect that government officials did not consider the timing of the report. Especially since the limited summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on the torture methods employed by the Bush Administration did not suggest an end to the impunity of government officials involved in the illegal program, but a continuation of it.

The fact that top officials in the Obama Administration and the leadership of the democratically-controlled Senate were aware of the criminal acts being perpetrated yet chose to prevent the release of the report and not prosecute officials responsible for those acts, demonstrates a bi-partisan cover-up and contempt for the law.

It is important to note that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is not a rogue operation. The actions it took were in response to directives from Bush officials to produce “actionable” intelligence, like the “intelligence” it was under pressure to produce to justify attacking Iraq. That is the role the CIA plays in service of the Executive Branch, the branch of the U.S. Government most responsible for advancing the interests of the capitalist class as a whole.

With that mandate, the Obama Administration was an active collaborator in a bi-partisan effort to cover up these crimes. We know this for this simple reason: although members of Congress and the Justice Department were in possession of evidence that human rights violations and transgressions of U.S. law had taken place, the only government officials who were prosecuted were those who brought information about governmental criminality to the attention of the public.

The bi-partisan claim that national security trumps U.S. and international law and all standards of human decency was the rationale that drove the decision by the Obama Administration to close out investigations into criminal activity during the Bush period.

Waterboarding, anal rape with a feeding tube, beatings, sleep deprivation, mock executions – these acts were all carried out on people who were ‘disappeared’ from their communities, families and nations with no regard for rights and humanity. Yet attempts by victims and their families to secure accountability and reparations for their abuse were systematically blocked by officials in the Obama Administration on the grounds of ”national security.”

That is why the sanctimonious posturing by Democrat members of the Senate Committee who are pretending to be outraged by the findings of the report is particularly galling in light of the fact that the conspiracy to cover up these crimes involved both parties. And the crimes continue. The Obama Administration continues to contract out torture through the program of “extraordinary rendition” that is buttressed with state murder in the form of its drone kill program. The criteria for who lives and dies on Pres. Obama’s ‘Tuesday morning kill list’ remain a mystery – though Attorney General Eric Holder ‘assures’ us that U.S. citizens are given their “due process” before the U.S. Government murders them.

U.S. officials don’t operate from the same set of standards as other states. As Pres. Obama repeats, over and over again, the U.S. is “exceptional.” And indeed it appears so. Successive administrations have engaged in the most egregious human rights abuses imaginable – illegal wars that kill hundreds of thousands, torture, arming of terrorists, overthrowing of governments, incarcerating more of its citizens than any other state on earth – yet still claims to be the world’s leader of human rights.

Today, the entire country – and the world – is being confronted with the glaring evidence of the systematic violation of the human rights of working class and poor black, Latinos and whites by a brutal and militarized police apparatus in the U.S. and the extent of torture perpetrated by agents of the U.S. government, with the approval of its elected ‘leaders’. I hope that on this Human Rights Day, the people of the world finally reject once and for all the lie that is U.S. exceptionalism.