Years and years on, abuses continue.
The Bureau of investigative Journalism, together with the Rendition Project, is still trying to piece together the CIA’s kidnapping (“rendition”) and torture programme.
Only in December 2014 did the US Senate Intelligence Committee release its <summary of its report into the programme — a programme which, at least according to this report summary, effectively ended in 2006.
It took nearly ten years after the fact for an official report to arrive.
And this report, despite arriving so late on the scene, had only its summary published — the rest of the report is still classified to this day — and even the summary was the subject of bitter controversy among politicians. (Though what counts as controversial among US mainstream politicians is not a very good guide as to what matters are deserving of controversy: take global warming, for instance.)
Only with this report, well over a decade after most of the facts, only then did we learn the most basic facts about the program, like the number of people captured under it. The answer to that question, at least according to the report, is 119. They appear to have included people from dangerous terrorists, through to innocents sold to the CIA for profit.
The Bureau’s report begins to pull together the evidence to find out what happened to them. They were disappeared from their lives, disappeared into unaccountable captivity, disappeared into a legal black hole — and, in several cases, disappeared from history. The Bureau was unable to determine the fate of 39 of the abductees.
It is a story of no accountability, brutality and incompetence. To be sure, it apprehended some terrorists — though it appears that following a proper legal process, in every case, would have led to better results in terms of security and preventing terrorism, as well as, of course, following the law and abusing human rights. But other cases are ridiculous.
There is Laid Saidi, who was tortured by submersion in a bathtub of icy water and interrogated about a conversation in which he talked about aeroplanes (as if that were a crime) — except it turns out, thanks to faulty translation, he was talking about tyres. Saidi was later released — except he was released to the wrong country, so had to be taken back into custody and released again months later.
There is Khaled el Masri, who was detained by Macedonian authorities and held in a hotel in Skopje, then handed over to the CIA and taken to Afghanistan. There he was tortured by beatings, solitary confinement, and sodomy. His crime? Having a name similar to that of an alleged terrorist. He eventually won damages from Macedonia in the European Court of Human Rights, but his case is unusual in having won some recompense.
Of course, this is only one of many programs of the CIA as part of the “War on Terror” — a “war” which, for the most part, appears to have consisted of terror. And the CIA is only one of numerous US government agencies to have engaged in abuses. And, the United States is only one of many nations to have engaged in abuses — indeed, they all do, though the US still reigns supreme in its ability to project force around the globe. Australia has assisted many of these abuses.
Almost fourteen years after September 11 2001, more than ten years after most of the kidnappings, the struggle remains ongoing to find out what happened and why. These events offer not just a window into a particular time and circumstances, but the institutional circumstances in which unaccountable force is used and unpunished (or even “legal”) crimes are committed.
In Australia we have heard a lot recently about “lest we forget”. We should above all remember the abuses perpetrated by ourselves and our allies — lest we forget them, and in so doing enable them to happen again. The struggle of people against power has always been the struggle of memory against forgetting.
There is also the constructive question, in examining abusive organisations and programmes like this one, to identify what factors caused, or at least allowed, such horrors to happen. What better set of institutions can we build to ensure that similar abuses never happen again — and maintain peace and security for all?
Years and years on, abuses continue.