The past decade has been somewhat tough for the United States. After the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, the American psyche has never been the same. While we thought ourselves to be unstoppable and omnipotent, this tragic moment in our history made every American and even the whole world grind to a halt. September 11th was the day a small group of men inflicted the United States with a paranoia and fear that she still has not managed to shake off. The world was well aware that terrorist attacks were real and did happen, but never did anyone expect such plans to come to fruition at the scale that they did one September morning.
With the memory of the terrorist attacks of September 11th seared into the collective minds of American citizens and politicians, President George Bush signed into law legislation passed by congress dubbed Authorization for Use of Military Force against Terrorists. What the legislation did was authorize President Bush to use any military means to dispose or bring to justice those responsible for the terrorist acts. Within a month, the United States launched military action on Taliban-control territory in northern Afghanistan. Coalition forces composed of troops from the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States soon began to dismount the Taliban from power in cities throughout Afghanistan.
The strikes on Afghanistan signified the beginning what would be known as the War on Terror. The United States had a simple goal in mind: oust the Taliban from power and destroy Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization responsible for the September 11th attacks as well as a throng of other atrocities throughout the world. Getting the Taliban out of power would be a crucial step because the United States believed that they were hiding Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda, somewhere in the mountainous Afghan-Pakistan border.
What President Bush and other supporters of the Afghan War believed was going to be a quick and triumphant victory for the United States turned out to be the complete opposite. The war in Afghanistan has dragged on for about thirteen years and the US isn’t poised to be completely out of the country until 2016. In those past thirteen years, 2,347 American soldiers have been killed in combat. In addition to the human loss, the United States government has also dumped over $500 billion dollars in the war since 2002.
The Afghans have suffered much larger losses. While the civilian death toll of any such conflicts is hard to accurately pinpoint, estimates range from the high 16 thousands to the low 19 thousands. There are also some other 5 and a half million refugees because of repressive Taliban rule as well as American “liberation” in Afghanistan.
The terrorist attacks of September 11th also ushered in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security as well as the opening of the detention center Guantanamo Bay, an American military prison in Cuba. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld stressed the necessity of having Guantanamo Bay. He, as well as many other supporters, argued that the center was essential to bringing those guilty of war crimes to justice. Guantanamo Bay became infamous because of the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, which is basically a euphemism for using torture in order to obtain information from the detainees.
While the American public was aware that detainees at Gitmo are sometimes subjected to interrogation methods such as waterboarding, we were unaware of the extent and actual effectiveness of it. That is, until December 9, 2014 when then United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) released 525 pages out of a 2,000 page document on the findings of a report titled Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program. The report states that the interrogation techniques used by the CIA to gather intelligence from the detainees was far more brutal than they reported it to be.
With the last of American combat troops pulling out of Afghanistan this past years, the Taliban is beginning to regain strength. This, coupled with the rise of the Islamic State, makes many doubt the actual effectiveness of American use of enhanced interrogation methods. The Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture only confirmed the doubts of the American public. It turns out that torturing prisoners is not an effective way of gathering intelligence, nor did it increase their willingness to comply with American authorities.
The CIA long defended the use of torture on detainees, saying that they have gathered much crucial evidence and have foiled or hindered many terrorist plots by using it. According to the report, the actual amount of useful information obtained by using enhanced interrogation techniques was minimal, completely contradictory to what the CIA was telling the public and the White House. They even went as far as purposefully leaking “classified” documents that exaggerated the success of using enhanced interrogation techniques to journalists. The CIA also sidestepped both Congressional and Presidential oversight, essentially acting on their own accord.
The report also described in detail the torture and humiliation that the detainees were subjected to. Detainees often went as long as a week without sleep, having loud noises and bright lights constantly keep them up. They were subjected to rectal feedings, which is as horrifying as its name would suggest. Officers at the camp would regularly slap them with all their might to instill fear in them. Detainees were often shackled in awkward positions that would dislocate their limbs and cause an immense amount of suffering. Some detainees were even unlucky enough to be subjected to waterboarding, an interrogation technique that makes the person feel as if they’re drowning. Vice has a handy dandy A-Z guide of the torture that the detainees endured; you can check it out here.
The United States is often seen as a beacon of justice and human rights, but the practices of CIA agents in Guantanamo Bay and other American “Black Sites” throughout the world would make one think otherwise. Gitmo has become the symbol of gross human rights violations on behalf of the United States in the crusade against terrorism. By keeping Guantanamo Bay open, the United States becomes one of the greatest hypocrites when it comes to human rights. The United States is constantly criticizing other countries such as China and Russia for their poor human rights record, yet constantly subjects detainees to torture and subhuman conditions. The release of CIA report essentially undermines the United States’ authority when it comes to matters of human rights.
It also helps to point out that the majority of the 150 or so men detained in Guantanamo Bay are being held without charge or trial. The majority of these men are essentially being held on nothing more than mere speculation. Of the nearly 800 men detained at the center, less than one per cent have been convicted by military commissions. Many of them were subjected to both physical and psychological abuse during their stay at Gitmo, only to be released sometime later without charge.
Back in 2008, then-Senator Barrack Obama ran on the campaign promise that he would shut down Guantanamo Bay if he became president. Fast forward six years and it’s still open and operating, still a bastion of cruelty and inhumanity. It’s not entirely the President’s fault however. Congress has made it exceptionally hard for Gitmo to close by passing legislation that banned sending prisoners to certain countries as well as making it more difficult to transfer detainees to other prisons.
The future of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay is up in the air due to President Obama’s announcement that US-Cuban relations were on track to thaw up after over half a century of tension and animosity between the two countries. President Obama’s announcement comes after a year and a half of talks between the US and Cuba.
“First, I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961. Going forward, the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba…. We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed and begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” President Obama said in his historic announcement Wednesday morning.
Raul Castro, the brother of famed Cuban dictator and revolutionary Fidel Castro and current president of Cuba, applauded President Obama’s statement. “This decision of President Obama deserves the respect and acknowledgment of our people. The blockade which causes much human and economic damage to our country should cease,” Castro said in his remarks.
Americans recoil in disgust and shock when they hear reports of the Islamic State or Mexican cartels torturing their enemies. But they didn’t bat an eyelash when the report was released. Despite the damning report, American opinion didn’t really change on the matter of using enhanced interrogation techniques. Perhaps it’s because the report just told us something we had already known before. Even then, we simply just shrugged it off and deemed it a necessary evil. Had we forgotten the evils the United States government was capable of so soon? After all, Abu Ghraib was only eleven years ago.