Foreign policy experts support release of Senate′s CIA torture report | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 10.12.2014
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Foreign policy experts support release of Senate's CIA torture report

Foreign policy scholars agree that US lawmakers were right to release a report detailing how the CIA tortured detainees. The experts wonder what will happen now that the revelations of abuse have been made public.

Philip Zelikow, former executive director of the 9/11 commission and counselor to former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:

I supported the release of the report. I have been aware of its contents for more than two years.

The existing media coverage is doing a pretty good job of explaining the key takeaways from the executive summary of the report. It is not just a historical document. It reinforces the importance of managing secret operations in a way that can sustain public trust and the support of our friends and allies in other countries.

Karima Bennoune, professor of international law at the University of California-Davis School of Law

What we have learned is that the CIA torture program was even worse than previously understood - in scope, in the nature of detainee treatment, among other points. The report's release is important, but is only a first step. The United States is a state party to the UN Convention against Torture, and alleged perpetrators of torture must be brought to justice. The US cannot publicly admit to torture, and then take no legal action. This is simply not an option.

No justification of torture - including terrorism - is ever permitted. Indeed, torture and terrorism follow the same logic. We must continue to staunchly oppose both. Security proponents must not justify violations of human rights, and human rights advocates must not minimize the reality of the threat to human rights from terrorism.

Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard University:

Even with many redactions and omissions, the report is a damning indictment of the Bush administration in general and the intelligence community in particular. Not only do they appear to have violated domestic and international law, but their reliance on torture produced bad rather than good intelligence. These revelations are not entirely new, but it is important to have them confirmed in such an authoritative fashion.

The report is also useful in showing just how far the United States strayed from its basic ideals. It also reminds us that it is very difficult to control agencies that operate secretly, and especially when a society is frightened. The only question that remains is whether anyone will actually be held accountable.

Karen Alter, professor of political science and law at Northwestern University:

It made me cry to see some of the things that our country did. It is shameful and not worthy of any great country to have acted as the reporting coverage suggests.

But I also appreciate that our country did investigate and issue this report. I expected that the story of torture was worse than what we were being told. The CIA hacking into the files of senators showed that there was something very big at stake, and I do think it is very possible that many people became complicit in covering up bad behavior.

Leaders, countries and also democracies make mistakes. Certainly the Bush administration made many errors, which is why support for the war in Iraq has plunged even among those who originally supported it.

I always opposed the war and the Bush administration's extraordinary rendition politics. But in a democracy, those who are running the country, who were elected, get to set the policy. In America, many people opposed the Bush administration's policies. I expect most Americans to be shocked and saddened by what is in the report.

The real test is what one then does about the mistakes. Researching the errors, publicizing what happened, and then having a strong debate is the best that one can hope for in these circumstances. The test is not whether mistakes are made, but what one then does about them.

Sebastian Harnisch, professor of international relations and foreign policy at the University of Heidelberg:

I support the release because democratic government is based on transparency, the rule of law and public officials being held accountable for past wrongful behavior. The released report and the reaction to it show that democracies under imminent threat can fail to uphold the principles they stand for and that they are able to identify unlawful behavior by government agencies, including serious crimes against humans and a systematic effort to misinform public officials and the public itself.

From reading summaries and news report, and without consulting the whole report in detail, the CIA program appears to have been harsher, more extensive and clandestine and couched into a wider scheme to mislead the public about its "effectiveness" then previously known.

The split national reaction to the report along party lines emphasizes, once again, the growing polarization and alienation between political parties in the US. This is a troublesome development for allies and foes of the United States alike, because US foreign policy behavior is likely to become less predictable, less rule-based and more haphazard. International implications will most likely be split between state governments cautious reactions, as many of them have been engaged in or cooperated with the United States in similar programs, and non-state actors who may or may not use the findings in the Senate report to incriminate the US or some of its former officials.

Jenny Martinez, professor of practice of international law and diplomacy at Stanford University:

It is incredibly important in a democracy that people know what their government is doing. The release of the report was the right step to help restore rule of law and move towards accountability. It wasn't that surprising to those who follow these issues, but it is better to have more details out there so the public can debate them.

Alison Brysk, professor of global governance at the University of California, Santa Barbara:

The release of this report is a necessary but not sufficient first step towards accountability for the massive abuse of human rights by US forces in the so-called "war on terror." These painful revelations are ultimately constructive, because history shows that democratic transparency and the rule of law offer the best long-term defense of national interest as well as global peace and security. Those countries like Germany that have learned the lessons of their past show a more robust and sustainable response to terror because they invest in collaborative societies, legitimate and effective police and judicial systems, and collective security.

The contribution of this report expands our knowledge of the scope and scale of CIA torture, highlights the CIA's rogue activities and repeated deception of democratic oversight, and shows conclusively that torture was not effective and did not contribute to forestalling attacks or apprehending suspects. Torture doesn't work; it is not only illegal and immoral, it corrupts intelligence-gathering, alienates civilian populations, and undermines international cooperation.

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