A Legislative No Man’s Land

Waterboarding, days without sleep, confinement leading to cramped posture, threats, humiliation and abuse. This depressing picture is how the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report depicts the interrogation of terror suspects as part of the war on terror.

Considering the chaos, panic and uncertainty caused by the terrorist acts of 9/11, it is understandable that the authorities quickly searched for ways to protect Americans from further attack. However, the publication of the report reveals once again that this kind of approach also denigrates the United States.

The report’s conclusions are particularly damaging to the CIA, which, during the hunt for America’s enemies, went so far that it even kept the White House in the dark about everything that took place within the framework of fighting the war on terror.

Nevertheless, in the end it was actually President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who paved the way for the CIA’s dubious dealings. They were the ones who directed the lawyers at the CIA, the Pentagon and the White House to start a thorough search for ways to circumvent U.S. law governing security.

It was central to the CIA’s approach to dealing with terror suspects in places that were outside the boundary of the routine justice system: at Guantánamo Bay, beyond the reach of American courts, or at so-called black sites where there is no public oversight. According to the report, which was loudly denounced by the Republicans, the controversial “advanced interrogation techniques” used by the CIA in effect produced virtually nothing. Others challenge that conclusion. According to CIA Director John Brennan, terrorist attacks were indeed prevented based on information acquired under pressure.

It is difficult to cast judgment on this, but certainly, ignoring the letter of the law on torture and inhumane treatment is highly objectionable. By undermining international agreements on the treatment of prisoners, the U.S. also put its own soldiers in jeopardy.

Another problem the U.S. will have to deal with is that it will be nearly impossible to bring the terror suspects to justice because evidence acquired under torture is inadmissible. That is why President Obama, despite all his promises, is still at a loss about what to do with Guantánamo Bay. According to the U.S., some prisoners are too dangerous to be released, but a trial is no longer an option either.

The report further revealed that CIA agents had their own reservations regarding interrogation methods and worried whether they would be prosecuted for their involvement in these actions. That alone ought to have made their superiors reflect on the situation: an unwarranted legal no man’s land does not equal a legal system that is based on honesty. Ultimately, bending the rules for the enemy will also affect the American justice system.

That is why it is a good thing that the Democrats published the report. It will make it harder for future presidents to give in to the temptation of quickly sacrificing fundamental rights for the sake of security.

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