“We tortured some folks”: Obama’s troubling remark shows apathy to US torture will reveal

It is a surprisingly careless, candid admission to make: “We tortured some folks”. But President Obama said just this in a news conference on Friday, in one blunt line confirming what many suspected the CIA had carried out since September 11th: there was torture of alleged terror suspects.

Protesters dressed as Guantánamo detainees assembled in front of the White House to protest President Barack Obama's nomination of John Brennan for director of the CIA. (Courtesy Justin Norman, used under Flickr creative commons licence)

Protesters dressed as Guantánamo detainees assembled in front of the White House to protest President Barack Obama’s nomination of John Brennan for director of the CIA in 2013. (Courtesy Justin Norman, used under Flickr creative commons licence)

Yet the admission does not accuse anyone in particular of wrongdoing and, if the Republican support of the ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques is anything to go by, perhaps no one will ultimately take the fall.

According to the Guardian the CIA torture report, which may be released as early as this week, shows there is a difference in opinion in the US government as to what constitutes torture and how useful torture is – a needless debate which rages on despite human rights organisations around the globe constantly remind governments that torture never works and is never justified, humane or acceptable. Democrat representatives have long been critical of the CIA’s enhanced torture techniques while Republicans have argued these action, while against human rights, helped national security and aided the takedown of Osama Bin Laden.

Whichever view you take though Obama’s phrase “we tortured some folks” is perhaps the most troubling quote in this debacle. Either Obama is understating the full effects of the report – a report which is expected to showcase some detailed descriptions of the primarily Bush-era torture – or he has carelessly brushed aside the crime of torture, its effects, the victims and the importance of preventing this international crime in the future.

This remark alone is not enough to judge. However Obama’s public support of CIA Director John Brennan and remarks stating that it is important “not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job [the CIA] had” certainly adds credence to the cynical view that torture is being ignored by the US.

One final remark from Obama: “A lot of those folks [in the CIA] were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.”

Torture is not so much as being ignored, but its implementation is being justified too.

The details of the CIA report are still under wraps and only upon release will we really see the full extent of the CIA. But let’s not forget this: the United States is a party to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified in October 1990.

The US often laud their own human rights superiority, quickly condemning other nations who break their obligations. And perhaps, after the release of the CIA report, their criticisms will turn inwards as the country strongly reflects on the crime committed in the name of national security.

Then and now the US, its government and its people have human rights obligations to adhere to, particularly surrounding the prevention and prohibition of torture.

But with Obama’s remarks, can you really tell?

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