On the 12th of September, 2001 President Bush addressed the American people. The preceding hours had bared witnessed to a terrible crime against humanity, committed over the skies of New York and Washington. The President was assertive when he spoke to his countrymen, ‘Freedom itself was attacked this morning by a faceless coward and freedom will be defended’. The words of the President were spoken with a militant conviction, and yet they obfuscated a pernicious truth. Freedom was not attacked on the morning of the 11th of September, a global empire was. Freedom was not the motive of the subsequent ‘war on terror’, submission was – both at home and abroad. What transpired over the next decade was a concerted propaganda effort, a crude exercise in Orwellian doublespeak. The ‘war on terror’ was framed in diametrically opposed language: us versus them, civilization versus barbarism, our God versus their God, our security over their liberty.  Phrases like ‘rendition’, ‘enemy-combatant’ and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ entered the political vernacular. Torture was sanctioned. And all the while our liberal democracy grew dark, like the very plumes of smoke that rose above the lower Manhattan skyline that September day.

The attacks of September 11th were a monstrous crime. It would be a gross indecency to suggest otherwise. Yet in the years that followed the attacks, the United States charted a war path that would blatantly compromise its integrity as a nation of laws; a nation where principles mattered. Principles born of the European enlightenment.  Principles that at once emancipated the individual and brought down despotic governments. Principles of equality, liberty, and universal justice. The facts are well known, the arbitrary rendition, imprisonment, and torture of enemy combatants by American Military personnel, depicted in grave detail by the Senate Intelligence Report, happened under our watch. Indeed, not only did torture occur, but perhaps more significantly, the report concludes that no information extracted through the program helped  to prevent an attack on American interests. Instead, torture provoked greater antipathy towards the United States and her allies.

Today there are those securocrats who seek to frame this chapter of American history differently – to rewrite the narrative in a way which defends torture and vindicates the criminals responsible for it. The patent mendacity of those who stand to defend these practices is indicative of a dangerous strain in American politics. The utter perversity of the claims must be refuted in the strongest possible language. Torture is and continues to be illegal, it is in contravention of international law, US domestic law, and our code of honour as a liberal democracy. There can be no debate on the matter of torture. There can be no excuse.

The starting assumptions of academics, journalists, and private citizens alike have been far too deferential to state power. This more so than any other aspect of the torture report is frightening. The unwillingness to admit fault, the staunch defense of the most abhorrent practices such as rectal feeding, waterboarding, and confined lockup. The desire to put it behind us and move on. The American people must demand accountability, not because the law simply requires it, although it does, but because it speaks of our moral character and gives credence to the oft cited maxim ‘never again’.

Most Americans are shocked by what they have read, but they are not surprised. The allusion of security provided by the national security state required only the silent obedient consent of the American people, a consent that was all too easily acquiesced. America was very much aware of what was being done in its name, but it remained quiet. What is needed today, more so than ever, is a repudiation of this post 9-11 malaise. This can start with the prosecution of John Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and Jay Bybee Head office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. These two men were responsible for the legal casuistry written to justify the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. The prosecution of these two men will not undo the damage that has been done, their prosecution will not rectify past wrongs. However, it will go a long way to restoring faith in American democracy and the rule of law.

It is to the great credit of Senator Feinstein that the report was made public. It is no secret that the Senator faced tremendous pressure from the national security establishment in Washington not to disclose the report. She was harassed, intimidated, and most certainly threatened. Her persistence should give even the most hardened sceptic hope. It demonstrates the resilience of American democracy, and also the importance of an independent legislature checking the power of the executive.  Yet the American people should not be fooled. A report is not enough to absolve. Active steps must be taken to hold those accountable who drove the policy of torture forward. This is the task anew.


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