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Opinion | The day of reckoning has come: We need to atone for a past of torturing prisoners

Milam's Musings

By Brett Milam
On March 18, 2014

President Obama is not doing enough to hold the CIA, its torturers and those who ordered the torture accountable. Obama needs to help spearhead the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's CIA torture report, which has been languishing in classified purgatory for 15 months now, largely due to CIA obstructionism and harassment.

When President Obama was campaigning for president in 2007, he wanted to do things differently than his predecessor. One such difference would come in the form of banning the use of torture or "enhanced interrogation techniques," as they were euphemistically referred to.

He did by issuing Executive Order 13491: "Ensuring Lawful Interrogations." However, an executive order could just as easily be reversed by the next torture-gung-ho administration. He has not done enough.

We still do not know whether Obama has upheld the practice of rendition - sending suspects to so-called "black sites" or other countries to be interrogated. Moreover, Guantanamo Bay is still open all these years later. In fact, just recently, a detainee, Imad Abdullah Hassan, who hasn't been charged and was cleared for release five years ago, said he is suing President Obama for torture.

Hassan alleges that the torture began under President Bush and then continued under President Obama through force-feeding. Detainees have gone through various periods of hunger strikes to protest their unlawful captivity. To break their will, medical staff strap them to a chair, apply tubes to their noses and force-feed them.

The World Medical Association and a plethora of other organizations have stated that force-feeding is torture. Yet, the practice continues unabated.

Finally, President Obama upon taking office in 2009, signaled that he would not investigate the Bush administration's torture practices. He stated we should "look forward as opposed to looking backwards." More to the point, he feared ruffling the feathers of the intelligence community he would be overseeing.

It gets even more nefarious than that, however. According to the ACLU, the Obama administration urged courts to dismiss all civil lawsuits regarding torture on national security grounds and refused to cooperate with any foreign government inquiries. In fact, they pressured those governments to close their investigations.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has spent the past four years investigating the torture abuses President Obama was unwilling to do. In December 2012, the committee adopted their 6,300-page report. It has not yet been released because of the CIA's actions and the White House's.

Even though President Obama said he supports the release and declassification of the report so the American people "can understand what happened in the past and that can help guide us as we move forward," he has stonewalled the committee, too.

According to McClatchy, the White House has been withholding for five years more than 9,000 top-secret documents sought by the committee.

Then there is the CIA. Democrat Dianne Feinstein, Chairman of the Committee, alleges that the CIA may have violated the separations of powers, the fourth Amendment and the prohibition on spying inside the United States.

The CIA "directly and repeatedly" interfered with the committee's investigation by searching computers of committee members and removing potentially incriminating documents. Tellingly, the CIA's own inspector general has referred the CIA's conduct to the Justice Department for a potential criminal investigation, according to the New York Review of Books.

Speculation is that the CIA broke into committee computers because they feared they had gotten their hands on a CIA internal review known as the Internal Panetta Review (based on the former Director Leon Panetta), which came to the same conclusion as the Senate report: That torture was both brutal and ineffective, according to MSNBC.

In other words, such a truth would dispel the myth that "enhanced interrogation techniques" is a mere policy difference between Republicans and Democrats and is actually a criminal offense worthy of punishment.

As the New York Times Editorial Board puts it, this "fog" about CIA detention and torture still lingers because of Obama's refusal to investigate them upon taking office. He can correct that mistake by supporting Feinstein and supporting the release of the torture report.

It should be undeniably unacceptable for the CIA to be interfering in the release of this report. The United States Congress oversees the CIA; the CIA does not oversee the Congress. Every member of Congress should be asserting their authority to tell the CIA to back off.

From John Brennan, director of the CIA, to President Obama, I keep seeing the sentiment that we need to "look ahead" to the future instead of turning back toward the past. But common sense tells us that the past informs our future and clearly our torturing remains a blight on our values.

Since 9/11, in our name, torture went on unabated, unchecked and unseen. With the election of President Obama, even if no investigation would be had, it at least seemed like the practice would end. However, with the secrets still surrounding the rendition program and the force-feeding of Guantanamo Bay detainees, it is all too clear that we have yet to excise torturing from our conduct.

And when Congress actually did their job and investigated the torture program, they have since been stonewalled and harassed by the CIA. This should be unacceptable behavior to the American people. We should want to know what was done in our name.

They - being President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft and CIA Director George Tenet, along with John Yoo and Jay Bybee, Justice Department lawyers - got away with torturing. And they're still getting away with it.

The report is unlikely to segue into criminal prosecution of the aforementioned key members of America's torture program, but we should still undoubtedly be made privy to its details.

A civilized society should be judged by how it treats the worst among us. By that measurement, we have failed by accepting the practice of torture and not holding its perpetrators accountable.

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