Learning from mistakes in Middle East

Colleen Hammond | Opinions Editor

As the country attempts to combat the looming threat of the coronavirus, it is easy to overlook the other major stories. With the nation focused on containing this virus, very few seem concerned about foreign policy outside of health and travel restrictions. However, major developments in U.S. involvement in the Middle East are still unfolding.

Within the past two weeks, the Trump administration announced the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. While this decision has been met with both praise and criticism, now is the time to reflect on American decisions during this nearly two-decade-long conflict.

One crucial practice must be reevaluated as the U.S. processes this exit from Iraq and Afghanistan: torture.

In the aftermath of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. found itself in an immediate quest for justice and the death of foreign terrorists. The insurmountable fear and desperation surrounding 9/11 quickly led the U.S. military down a dark path of unchecked power and horrific human rights violations.

The fear and anxiety caused by 9/11 opened a unique opportunity for lawmakers, military officials and intelligence agents. The War on Terror became a blank check for lawmakers to push through any piece of legislation in the name of national security.

This allowed for the frequent practice of torture by the American military and, most frequently, by the CIA.

Wartime or not, torture remains entirely unacceptable. The practices employed by the U.S. government included the horrific use of waterboarding, sensory overload and deprivation as well as medically unnecessary rectal rehydration. These nightmarish tactics were used on a variety of prisoners on CIA blacksites with the intention of capturing and/or killing those responsible for 9/11.

Under the banner of national security, CIA agents willfully, physically abused prisoners suspected of involvement in terrorist groups. While these agents were hoping to gain useful intelligence from these prisoners, the entire enhanced interrogation program within the CIA produced no actionable intelligence that helped catch those involved in 9/11 or protect American lives.

If someone is being beaten to death or physically tortured, they will say whatever their captor wants to hear in order for the torture to stop.

Simply put, enhanced interrogation, also know as torture, is ineffective. Torture does not now, nor has it ever, actually worked as a method of gathering information.

Needless to say, it is also deeply inhumane. Even if a person is accused of being a terrorist, they still must have their human rights respected. This is why the United Nations has formally outlawed the use of enhanced interrogation.

However, the U.S. has not followed this protocol. In the early 2010s, the Senate Intelligence Committee began an in-depth investigation of the CIA’s use of torture. After a nearly three-year long investigation, it was revealed that the CIA knew and understood the inefficacy of torture and used it anyway. They chose to dehumanize prisoners for the sake of demonstrating America’s power as a nation. But stripping away human rights should not be used as a power play, especially not by the U.S.

The U.S.’s use of torture is a violation of international human rights laws, and America’s status as a global superpower cannot serve as exemption to the rule. This country is supposed to uphold human rights — not remove them.

The U.S.’s decision to violate human rights laws has set a dangerous precedent for the international community. If the U.S., a global powerhouse, can unlawfully detain prisoners and subject them to grotesque and unimaginable torture and get away with it, then what is stopping any other nation from doing the same?

Overall, American’s use of torture in the post 9/11 world is completely deplorable. Although the withdrawal of troops from the Middle East may seem like a step in the right direction of world peace, the atrocities of the past cannot be ignored or white washed. As the country begins to process the past two decades of war, conflict and turmoil, the stain of torture on America’s human rights record cannot be overlooked. As a nation, it is necessary to learn from the horrific mistakes of the past so they can be avoided in the future.

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