Italy’s High Court has upheld the sentences of 23 CIA operatives convicted of kidnapping a Muslim cleric under the U.S. program of “extraordinary rendition.” The cleric, Abu Omar, was seized from the streets of Milan in 2003 and taken to U.S. bases in Italy and Germany before being sent to Egypt, where he was tortured during a four-year imprisonment. The Americans were all convicted in absentia after the United States refused to hand them over. The ruling marks the final appeal in the first trial anywhere in the world involving the CIA’s practice of rendering terror suspects to countries that allow torture.
- Democracy Now
That’s the third stage of impunity. The first stage—and it’s a universal process. It happens in countries emerging from authoritarianism that have had problems with torture. Step one is blame the bad apples. Donald Rumsfeld did that right after the Abu Ghraib scandal was exposed in 2004.
Step two is saying that it was necessary for our national security—unfortunate, perhaps, but necessary to keep us all safe. That was done very articulately by former Vice President Cheney at the time, and he continues to make that argument. He claims that these “enhanced techniques,” as he calls them, i.e. CIA torture, saved thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of lives. OK?
The third step is the step we just witnessed in President Obama, saying that, well, whatever might have happened in the past, we need unity as a nation, we need to move forward together into the future. So, the past isn’t germane. We need to put it behind us, not investigate, not prosecute. And that was the position he was taking there.
The fourth stage is one that we’ve been going through for the past year. That’s been political attack by those implicated, under the Bush administration, in either conducting the torture or authorizing the torture. And that’s a political tack seeking not just exoneration, getting away with it, but seeking vindication, saying that not only, you know, was this legal, but it was necessary, it was imperative for our national security. And that’s an argument that the Bush administration made very forcefully when Osama bin Laden was killed in May of 2011. They argued that the enhanced interrogation under the Bush administration led the Navy SEALs to Osama bin Laden. There’s no evidence for that, but they made that argument. And that put pressure on Attorney General Eric Holder to drop the—most of the investigations of CIA abuse. And then, very recently, the two investigations of detainees who were killed in CIA custody have been dropped, as well.
The fifth and final stage is one that’s ongoing right to the present, and that’s rewriting the history, rewriting the past, ripping it apart, without respect to the truth of the matter, and reconstructing it in a way that justifies the torture.
- Alfred McCoy