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Senate Report May Bring International Pressure
| published December 17, 2014 |

By Thursday Review staff

According to polls released by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News this week, a majority of Americans think that the CIA’s use of the so-called “harsh interrogation techniques” used in the aftermath of 9/11 were justified and legal. In fact, slightly more than half of the people surveyed recently thought that the interrogation tools used by the CIA were “acceptable under the circumstances.” Only about 28% thought the practices were morally questionable or went too far.

Those poll results come after a bitter, brutal political fight broke out in the Washington after the recent release of a long-awaited report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). That Senate report, released about two weeks ago amidst much controversy, sparked a crucial debate: did the CIA’s so-called extreme interrogation tactics cross the line into outright torture?

Democrats, progressives, and a variety of civil rights organizations in the U.S. and abroad have concluded that the answer is an unequivocal yes. According to those who support the findings of the 500-plus-page report, many of the interrogation techniques used by the CIA were torture—most especially the frequent use of waterboarding, and use of sleep deprivation, and the unusual practice of rectal feeding. More importantly, say the authors of that report, the harsh interrogation practices yielded few, if any, tangible results. And, they say, the most promising leads—such as that data which lead to the discovery of Osama ben Laden’s Pakistan hideout—were developed using other mechanisms and tools outside of the interrogation of detainees.

But Republicans—and a lot of current and former employees of the CIA—call the report politically-motivated rubbish. Some members of the administration of George W. Bush, U.S. President at the time the program began in the days immediately after 9/11, suggest that Democrats in the Senate are playing fast-and-loose with the truth. Former vice-President Dick Cheney has had harsh words on the subject, and at least three former CIA directors have defended—more or less—a program which they say did produce measurable results.

Republicans in Congress have said that the timing of the report was not coincidental—the GOP will come back to Washington in January 2015 with its most significant majority since the late 1940s, when a wave of anti-FDR sentiment swept through the nation. But Feinstein says that’s the point exactly: she and the committee sought to release the report in December, before Congressional adjournment, so that Republican members could not exercise their option in January to vote to keep the report’s findings confidential. Neither side was ever able to agree upon a compromise deal, wherein the report would remain classified for at least another three-to-five years, at which time the Senate could re-evaluate whether release of the report would stoke anger or outrage around the world, particularly in predominantly Islamic countries.

President Barack Obama declared an end to the interrogation programs in 2009 and 2010, and though he stopped short of calling the CIA’s activities torture, it was clear to most political observers Obama was unhappy with the program, which the White House regarded as a foreign policy time bomb.

The Senate report ignited a firestorm of disagreement, and many with connections to the Bush White House and the CIA in those days suggest it is unfair to challenge the morality of the difficult, complex work which needed to be done at that time. In the context of 9/11, supporters of the CIA program say, with the distinct possibility that another attack could come at any time, such a track was not only morally acceptable, but necessary to save lives.

But among the international community and within the United Nations, that opinion is not widely shared. Several high profile international agencies have said that U.S. officials who were instrumental in the decision to use harsh interrogation techniques—where defined as torture by those international bodies—should be held legally accountable for their actions.

One detainee who was interrogated by the CIA has said that at least one other country—Romania—should be held partially responsible for what his attorney says was his torture at the hands of CIA agents and contractors. According to the Senate report, the CIA operated a detention and interrogation facility deep inside Romania. But Romanian officials now say that they only agreed to cooperate with the United States by providing a secure location in a remote spot, but did not ask for a full understanding of what was happening at the secret facility, code named Detention Center Black. The Romanian facility may have been just one of several such detainee interrogation centers, with others located in Poland, Lithuania, and Afghanistan.

According to the report released by the Senate committee, Romanian authorities were paid at least $1 million in cash as a gratuity for the use of the facility. But Romanian officials have told reporters this week that they did not accept any money from the CIA or from American individuals in exchange for cooperation with the use of the facility. Flight records and flight manifests confirm that senior military and CIA officials sometimes flew to this location in Romania, and that prisoners may have also been transported by plane to these sites.

The disagreements over whether cash was paid to Romanian officials—or whether those Romanians had any specific knowledge of what was happening in the CIA’s facility—are likely to intensify over the next weeks and months, especially in the context of international pressure to bring people to justice if torture was used. Romanian officials could be held accountable by international groups if it can be proven that those officials cooperated with the CIA.

One Romanian official, Ioan Talpes, a former national security advisor to Romanian President Ion Iliescu from 2000 to 2004, said “…we facilitated…we put at their disposal materials they had been asking for, but not with Romanian participation.”

Referring to the physical location of the facility, Talpes said “we did not even know what would be there.” The non-descript facility was located in a quiet but busy area of Bucharest north of the central city, between a residential cluster and a multitude of freight railroad tracks.

But the prisoner now being held at the military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has said—through his attorney—that Romania should be held accountable for its role in his treatment during CIA interrogation sessions. The unnamed prisoner and his legal counsel are asking that the European Court for Human Rights make a judgment against Romania, and, if possible, bring those Romanian officials to justice for acquiescing to the CIA.

Back in the United States, some within the CIA and many Republicans suggest that the Senate report—which they say should not have been released under the current circumstances—is likely to cause many more such complex and troubling situations between the U.S. and its allies. Several human rights groups are using extensive access to both aviation records and digital records to track the flight paths and flight information of airplanes owned by the CIA or chartered by the CIA in Europe. Because of this detective work, many of these flights have already been publicly disclosed, with that information now being collected as part of the European court’s official record.

Like most European countries, Romania has signed agreements with the European Convention for Human Rights. Some legal analysts expect that many other such international cases will develop quickly in the wide wake now created by the Feinstein report, as it is sometimes called. Photographs and walk-through images have appeared on the internet showing a similar CIA site in Poland. Reporters first uncovered the exact location of the Bucharest, Romania site in 2011, and though Romanian officials at that time never conceded that part of the building was being used for CIA interrogations, later officials—like Talpes—have confirmed that the facility was in use by CIA officials. Some reports have indicated that the CIA used primarily the extensive basement of the building for its detention and interrogation activities, while the first floor was used by Romania as a secure data center for NATO and European Union documents and files.

As for that recent poll conducted in the U.S. regarding the public’s attitudes toward the CIA interrogation program, some liberals have complained that the specific language of the poll never mentioned the word “torture,” using instead the CIA’s preferred phrase, enhanced interrogation techniques. Many former top CIA officials have defended the program, and some have suggested that proof of its overall effectiveness can be found in the fact that the United States never experienced another large scale terror attack after 9/11. Defenders of the CIA program also point out that numerous terror plots have been derailed or disrupted through intelligence gathered from detainees under CIA supervision.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Washington Divided on CIA Interrogations; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; December 11, 2014.

A Senate Report Vs The CIA; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; December 11, 2014.