The US Senate report on the CIA's use of torture is shocking. It sets out in horrifying detail how prisoners were abused in ways far worse than was previously known. There must be consequences, says DW's Michael Knigge.
Even if you only skim through parts of the executive summary for the original 6,700-page Senate report on the CIA's use of torture under former US President George W. Bush, what you read will take your breath away. The published summary meticulously details how the United States - the country that regards itself as a stronghold of human rights and democracy - systematically violated its own principles. It is very difficult to read about practices like "rectal feeding," or how ways of getting a prisoner to talk included putting a gun to their head or threatening their children. And it is painful to have to write this, but what is described here sounds like scenes from TV mafia series like "The Sopranos." Yet it was all done by order of the US government.
Making light of torture
It is also shocking to see that even after publication of the report there is still debate about whether the methods deployed in the euphemistically named "enhanced interrogations" can be described as torture. Senator Dianne Feinstein gave the appropriate answer to this in her preface to the report: "Under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured."
Even worse were statements by former and active politicians justifying the practice of torture by claiming that such methods have proved effective. To have to hear such statements from elected representatives is a slap in the face of constitutional democracy. Firstly, because the claim is false, as the report explicitly states. Secondly, and far more importantly, because in a democracy torture is non-negotiable, even in exceptional circumstances such as those the United States certainly found itself in after the devastating attacks of September 11, 2001. Anyone who uses torture as a means of gathering information is putting an axe to the constitutional state and behaving no differently from the extremists of every stripe who are trying to destroy it.
For this reason, the report must also lead to political and legal consequences. As Feinstein correctly observed, Congress must finally issue an official ban on the interrogation methods used under President George W. Bush. The current ban is based only on a directive from President Barack Obama: The next president could revoke it. Furthermore, those politically responsible for allowing the torture of detainees must finally be brought to justice. These practices were not applied in a vacuum but with the explicit legal and political backing of the then administration. There was good reason for George W. Bush to describe himself as "The Decider." Now he should be taken at his word.