The revelations this week by the New York Times on the use of torture on prisoners by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) shows once again that when a people are threatened by an enemy, fear brings out the worst in human beings.
The disclosure by the New York Times, and subsequent reactions also show how democracy does not seem to be working too well in the US.
The interrogation techniques endorsed by a 2005 Justice Department memo were some of the harshest ever used by the CIA, according to the New York Times. They included head-slapping, exposure to freezing temperatures and simulated drowning, known as water-boarding.
It is surprising that elected representatives of the people knew nothing about it. Democrats on Capitol Hill demanded to see the classified memorandums, disclosed Thursday by The New York Times, that gave the Central Intelligence Agency expansive approval in 2005 for harsh interrogation techniques, according to a follow-up report in the New York Times.
“I find it unfathomable that the committee tasked with oversight of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program would be provided more information by The New York Times than by the Department of Justice,” Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote to the acting attorney general, Peter D. Keisler, asking for copies of all opinions on interrogation since 2004, the New York Times said.
More frightening is that in the name of fighting terror, the President of the US and his officials in government have consolidated, nay arrogated power, by a series of laws and regulations, including laws on surveillance of people, and a domestic spying program.
Some of these new rules even exclude Capitol Hill from knowing what is going on. A pet line already making the rounds is that a disclosure of interrogation techniques would help terrorists train their cadres to resist these techniques.
Once again US President George Bush invoked the potent imagery of terror on Friday. Voice of America quoted the President as saying “The American people expect their government to take action to protect them from further attack. And that is exactly what this government is doing. And that is exactly what we will continue to do.” Bush however said that interrogations were conducted by trained professionals who did not use torture.
The alleged torture of prisoners, and some other measures by the Bush government, that effectively circumvent civil rights, are grist for the propaganda machines of the terrorists. One of the aims of terrorism is to expose what it believes is the dark under-belly of democracy. The torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib , the detentions at Guantanamo Bay, and now the report of the tortures by the CIA help reinforce these views.
The free world can hold the moral high ground against its opponents only if it shows that civility, decency, human rights, and democracy will never be compromised under any threat. Else we are not very different from them.