CIA Torture Report: What Now?

By Asraa Mustufa Dec 12, 2014

Earlier this week, the Senate Intelligence Committee finally made public the executive summary of their milestone investigation into the C.I.A.’s use of torture at secret prisons overseas during the Bush administration. The report details the brutal "enhanced interrogation" techniques used on detainees, as well as the torture program’s efficacy (or lack thereof), based on the agency’s own documentation. Their findings also reveal the C.I.A.’s duplicity, how it provided false information on the extent, scope, and utility of their practices to members of Congress, the White House, the Department of Justice and the media. While President Obama banned the C.I.A.’s use of torture upon taking office, he has also ruled out the possibility of criminally prosecuting the officials and officers responsible.So what happens now that the report is out? Here is what a few leading Muslim American activists and thinkers told Colorlines:

Zahra Billoo, executive director, Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area Office

What is your reaction to the revelations made in the report?  Short answer: horrified, but not surprised. Longer answer: We knew these types of things were happening, but I am horrified to learn of the unimaginable extent of them. The report is a critical step towards accountability, but the people who planned and carried the actions out need to be held accountable. They are criminals, nothing less. Prosecuting them is how we will ensure this never happens again.

What can we do to move forward? Contact our elected officials and the Department of Justice to encourage prosecution of those involved.

Alejandro J. Beutel, independent analyst and researcher on American Muslims and U.S. national security

What is your reaction to the revelations made in the report?The report is a 6,000-page documentation of utter moral depravity and strategic incompetence. In an exercise of blind anger and arrogance, some of our highest officials completely ignored the advice of experts, including professional interrogators (many of whom since have taken a stand against torture), outsourced its plans for prisoner interviews to [private contractors] and led our nation down a terrible path. Our nation’s top officials and those who followed their unlawful orders have violated their oaths to uphold the Constitution and the public trust that comes with it.

Moreover, this makes our nation less safe. Like many of my fellow Americans after 9/11, I felt fear and outrage and I demanded justice for those who died in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Since then, I’ve worked as an advocate for American Muslim communities, as well as researcher who analyzes various forms of hate. In my experience of observing violent extremists like Al-Qa’ida [PDF] and their ilk, one of the most consistent strategies they use to recruit people has been to tap into grievances over foreign policies, including pointing to the abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

I ask my fellow Americans and myself: Is this justice? Is this security? I don’t think so.

What can we do to move forward?  There’s no magic-bullet solution. We have to lobby Congress very hard. There also needs to be a grassroots movement that exposes the moral horror and the practical shortcomings of torture. Thankfully American opinion is strongly against torture. There are also groups like National Religious Campaign Against Torture who have been doing excellent work on the issue. They and the members of Congress that have worked to get this report exposed to the public and they deserve our support.

Linda Sarsour, executive director, Arab American Association of New York

What is your reaction to the revelations made in the report?  The CIA report was worse than I had expected it to be. It was absolutely horrific and barbaric and that’s with most of it redacted. As an American Muslim knowing that the majority of the victims of torture were Muslim made it very personal for me. I felt emotional thinking about the victims and their families and the trauma they would carry forever. We as Americans are quick to call other nation states barbaric without ever reflecting on the pain, torture and murder that we have inflicted on Muslims and other people of color across the world. I couldn’t help but to feel a sense of responsibility, a complicity in these crimes against humanity. We are supposed to be the superpower, the best country in the world, and this CIA report and the continuation of civil and human rights violations against our own citizens, let alone victims in other parts of the world, makes one question if we have lost our moral compass or whether we ever possessed one it at all.

What can we do to move forward?  From Ferguson to New York to Abu Ghraib, the United States has a problem with transparency and accountability. We must hold all those responsible for engaging in torture practices accountable; they must be tried for the crimes they have committed. As Americans we need to speak out and speak loud against torture because it is a threat to our national security. Our country has an obsession with terrorism committed by Muslims while ignoring our role in fueling anti-American sentiment by waging unjust wars and using tortures against citizens of other nation states. As activists and organizers, we must connect the dots between the movements –from economic justice, police reform, anti-war, to anti-torture–it’s all related. We must not allow the rest of the world to know us only through the evils of our government leaders.

Azhar Azeez, president of the Islamic Society of North America

What is your reaction to the revelations made in the report?  We are appalled by the report because it shows how far we as a country have fallen in dealing with brutal terrorists. We willfully violated the very norms that America has prided itself on. We used the very techniques that others used on our soldiers not to get the truth, but to use their answers for propaganda. This report is not about the terrorists and their well-known brutality. It is about us and our moral failures at a time when our leadership was most crucial. There is no better way to defeat the lawlessness of the terrorists than to maintain our morals and values even in the face of our worst enemy. 

In Islam we are taught, even when dealing with our most deadly enemies, to treat them humanely. The Prophet Muhammad said, "Verily, God will torture those who torture people in this world."

What can we do to move forward? The best way to move forward is not retribution but truth, accountability and reconciliation. It is hard to talk about moving forward because, while President Obama has rightfully condemned torture as both a moral crime and an ineffective tool, unfortunately, he has replaced torture with drone attacks that often kill civilians and perhaps lead to the creation of more terrorists.

Our government should also hold those who were responsible in authorizing and carrying out these policies accountable to the fullest extent of the law and to insure that sufficient oversight is implemented to prevent such policies from ever being implemented again. So far we have not seen any indication from President Obama nor the Congress that they are willing to take those into account.

Hoda Elshishtawy, national policy analyst for the Muslim Public Affairs Council*

What is your reaction to the revelations made in the report? I’m not surprised with the release of the report, but I am shocked at the content, torture and the subsequent coverup of the program. The fact that the CIA led these torture practices and called them interrogation techniques is appalling and antithetical to the values our nation holds. What’s more concerning is the fact that the torture methods did not result in any credible information; at best we already knew that information, at worst the information was wrong. In fact, by CIA agents’ own admission, those techniques were not effective and yet they continued. 

What can we do to move forward? We need to continue to put pressure on Congress to ensure a more transparent and robust oversight committee. We need to call on Congress to support other members’ legislation to reform these rubber-stamped programs to ensure a culture shift from these ineffective, heavy handed practices to something more productive. We need to make the CIA come under the fold of oversight; the fact that they spied on the very Committee tasked to oversee them is an ironic and abysmal failure on our part to keep the agency under control.

Khalil Meek, executive director of Muslim Legal Fund of America.

What is your reaction to the revelations made in the report?  wish I could say that we’re surprised, but the growing institutionalized bigotry against Islam and Muslims has poisoned how law enforcement and our intelligence agencies view Muslims in America and abroad. Muslims aren’t seen as worthy of the same legal standing, civil rights or liberties other people are afforded.  This is demonstrated by the cruelty we find in the pages of this report – a cruelty that was made easy by virtue of their expressed religious beliefs.

Another troubling development is the potential for information gathered through torture to be used in federal prosecutions. The justification for investigating the Holy Land Foundation came from a confession that foreign agents obtained through torture. How much other so-called evidence came from tortured confessions? This calls into question not only this case, but every national security case prosecuted in the country.

What can we do to move forward? The most obvious answer is to stop torturing people. But we can’t stop there. We have innocent people sitting in prison because of coerced confessions. Hamid Hayat is on example. After being bullied into a confession by federal agents, he confessed to training at a camp in Pakistan that didn’t even exist when he was over there. Yet, he is sitting in prison thanks to the flawed mentality that torture and coercion are acceptable means to the truth.

We the people must hold law enforcement and intelligence agencies to high moral, ethical and legal standards. One thing this torture report spells out is that truth cannot arise from coercion. …When law enforcement take the pledge to "defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic," we must understand that one of the greatest domestic enemies is the temptation to circumvent the rule of law and to trample upon the constitutional rights of the innocent through coercion, torture or changing the rules of the courts to unfairly favor prosecutors in trials based on the religious or other First Amendment activities of the defendants.

We should also review all convictions that were gained in any part through the use of evidence or intelligence obtained by use of torture or other violently coercive means. Criminals needs to be prosecuted, but the integrity of those prosecutions are jeopardized when the integrity of our system is threatened by those who use torture or other misconduct to achieve convictions. Innocent until proven guilty is not a quaint sentiment. It’s the American way of life and it must be protected.

And if law still matters in this country, we must prosecute every single person involved in these despicable acts – everyone from individuals carrying out the acts to the people responsible for authorizing or justifying them. Torture is injustice. Our pledge is "with liberty and justice for all," and that needs to matter for our nation to have a just and fair society.

*Post has been updated since publication to include responses from Meek and Elshishtawy