Two top United Nations human rights officials have demanded that the United States government prosecute all high-level government officials involved in the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) torture programmes.

The UN’s special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights Ben Emmerson stated on December 10 2014 that the systematic torture revealed in the US Senate Report released on December 9th, was a massive violation of the 1994 UN Convention Against Torture. He called upon the US Attorney-General to “bring criminal charges against those responsible.” He further emphasized that the US is legally obliged to do so under international law. Another UN official, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, made a similar call.

An American law professor from the University of California’s Irvine School of Law has pointed out that torture is also a violation of domestic law since it is a federal crime and those “who authorized it and engaged in it must be criminally prosecuted.” Civil society groups from all over the world should endorse these calls wholeheartedly. They should ask that not only those officials directly responsible for the tortures but also those at the very apex who authorized it should be put on trial. Since the CIA’ S “Rendition, Detention and Interrogation” programme was authorized by President George Bush in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, he should be prosecuted, together with his Vice-President, Dick Chenney, his Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfield, and the Deputy Secretary of Defence, Paul Wolfowitz, all of whom may have had a bigger role in the planning and execution of this vile plan.

It follows from this that President Obama’s decision not to prosecute officials from the Bush Administration is wrong and unjust. It is unjust not only because it undermines both US and international law; it is unjust because the forms of torture employed were callous and cruel. Detainees at various centres were subjected to waterboarding, deprivation of sleep for long hours, sexual threats and death threats. It is significant that the Report admits that in spite of all the coercion used, the interrogators did not obtain critical information about imminent terrorist attacks.

Though the Senate Report was focused upon the US, there is some evidence from other sources that seem to suggest that certain other countries were also involved in the CIA’s programme. In July 2014, the European court of human rights for instance ruled that the government of Poland had facilitated the CIA’s secret prison programme in Europe. Other inquiries have revealed that Sweden, Italy, Macedonia and Rumania have also participated in the CIA’s programme for interrogating and detaining terror suspects. Human rights groups in Britain allege that Britain’s MI 5 and MI 6 have colluded with the CIA in torturing British residents detained in Guantanamo Bay. Civil society groups should campaign for full accountability and transparency on the question of torture from these and other governments.

Returning to the situation in the US, there is an even more powerful reason why top US leaders should be put in the dock. US leaders have always projected themselves as the greatest champions of democracy and human rights on earth. How can champions of democracy torture — torture in such a debased and depraved manner?

Of course, even without the recent revelations, or the revelations in the last few years from Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram, many of us have never seen US elites as genuine defenders of human rights. How can you be a defender of human rights when you conquer foreign lands and kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people, from Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq, in pursuit of your own hegemonic economic and political agenda? What rights are you protecting when you overthrow democratically elected governments in Iran and Chile? How can you claim to be a paragon of democratic values when you have helped to keep in power some of the most autocratic regimes in Latin America, Africa and Asia?

Indeed, the US government should desist from playing the role of an upholder of democracy and human rights, given the history of the US as a nation. The barbaric annihilation of the indigenous people of America renders the white settler community in that land a violent suppressor of human rights and human dignity. Similarly, the enslavement of the African population of the US for many decades by a white elite means that it did not have an iota of respect for the honour and integrity of its victims. Perhaps what happened in Ferguson and New York in recent months serve as grim reminders of a racist past that continues to haunt 21st century peddlers of human rights.

There are apologists for the US who argue that whatever its shortcomings, the US leadership was willing to admit through the Senate Report that it had tortured people, that it had done wrong. After all, many other countries also torture detainees and prisoners.

True, the US elite did the right thing by revealing the dark side of its torture programme, unlike most other governments. But we must remember that the US is different from others in two respects. It commands enormous global power, especially global military power. With massive power comes huge responsibilities. It is in the realm of the responsibilities that it shoulders that it has failed miserably. And its torture program is just one of the many examples of its failure to act responsibly. Besides, the US, as we have seen, often claims the high moral ground when it comes to democracy and human rights. Most other states do not make such claims. Judged by its own moral barometer, the US should hang down its head in shame.

It is a pity that many so-called liberal human rights groups in the Global South who are quick to condemn their own governments for their human rights transgressions are deafeningly silent in the face of the US leadership’s gross violations of human dignity.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is the President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).


15 December 2014.