Condemning Torture Does Not Excuse It!

Last Tuesday, the U.S. Senate released its report on the methods of torture employed by that country’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as part of the war on terror. America’s allies and enemies have become united in their condemnation. Even tyrannical North Korea joined in!

However, the primary target of the condemnations reveals a major difference between the members of this sudden alliance. Only a few alliance members focused on the torture itself, which naturally led them to criticize those truly responsible for it — the CIA, with support and coverage from the Bush administration. However, the majority of the criticism has come to focus on the United States itself, not on its previous presidential administration. Friends and foes alike are falling all over themselves to decry American hypocrisy, but this, quite frankly, is itself hypocrisy. They are not condemning torture — they are criticizing the U.S. while using information they have obtained from the United States.

As such, the Senate’s report has become the latest excuse for oppression and human rights violations in many countries. It is nothing new that America, like its allies and the entire world, considers human rights to be a secondary to its national interests. This report is not the first of its kind: In the mid-1970s, the Senate’s Church Committee investigated the illegal activities of the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

And it is possible for us in the Arab world, particularly the more hysterical among us, to forget that the first condemnation of these practices in fact originated in none other than the American Senate. If the report includes much that was already known for years about the atrocities committed by American intelligence in the name of the war on terror, it is because of the work of American journalists, not the “free presses” of Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, etc. Likewise, it is easy to forget that even nations of “resistance,” such as Assad’s Syria, have themselves tortured on behalf of the United States. Most famous is the story of the Canadian citizen of Syrian ancestry, Maher Arar.

But aside from all that, there remains the most important question: The fact that the United States was in conflict with criminals and torturers became the justification for the U.S. violating their rights and torturing them. So, does this justify oppression and the violation of human rights?

The day after the release of the Senate torture report brought the release of an even more important document, bringing Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to tears over the crimes committed by the dictatorship that ruled the country from 1964-85. The goal of both reports was in both nations’ interest, and to prevent such crimes from being committed in the future, even in the world’s most powerful nation – the United States. The Arab world needs to undergo a similar process in regard to torture and other violations of freedom and dignity, the very things that have brought us to the mess we’re in today, while Brazil experiences a dawn in freedom, democracy, integrity and accountability.

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