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By: Joyce Karam
The release of the torture report by Congress faulting the interrogation methods of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under George W. Bush stands as a testimony to the resilience of the American democracy and the decree of separation of powers. However, the daunting facts inside the report on torturing detainees and practicing inhumane clandestine tactics in prisons across the world, will further damage an already teetering U.S. credibility and moral standing in the Middle East.
It is not as if the CIA practicing water-boarding, sleep deprivation, rectal feeding/dehydration between 2001 and 2009 is groundbreaking news in the Middle East, but these actions remind and confirm to the people of the region their worst suspicions about the United States. They will also likely be used by authoritarian regimes in the region, some of whom facilitated rendition or prison use for the CIA, to justify their own inhumane treatment against their citizens, disregarding that those practices were terminated when Obama came to office in January of 2009.
It is an exaggeration to blame the release of the report on bringing more turmoil and helping terrorist groups such as ISIS in the region. Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic senator who defied the CIA and championed the release of the report is right in predicting that the turmoil “is going to continue for the foreseeable future whether this report is released or not.” Her hope is that the world will see that “America is big enough to admit when it’s wrong and confident enough to learn from its mistakes.”
While that might resonate in healthy democracies across the world, the report will further damage U.S. credibility in the region, already the casualty of discrepancy between Obama’s words and actions. From Syria to Jerusalem to Egypt, the United States has lost its message and its moral standing is suffering today. Obama’s role and positions are narrowly defined by counterterrorism interests and nuclear non-proliferation, while being void of clarity on humanitarian and moral standings. The report coming on top of Obama’s policy to remain on the sideline in Syria where more than 200,000 have died, shying away from criticizing the military in Egypt, and becoming a bystander in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, will further enforce the antipathy towards the U.S. in the region.
While Obama should be given credit for ending the era of torture legalized under his predecessor George W. Bush, the obscurity of this administration’s policies in the Middle East and the lack of strong positions and actions on human rights violations will allow this report to be used in diminishing U.S. standing.
As was the case with the Abu Ghraib scandal and the indefinite detentions in Guantanamo Bay, reports, commissions’ reviews and condemnations are crucial in raising public awareness and ensuring oversight from Congress, but shutting down Guantanamo will speak louder than any report. It is a goal that Obama had set forth from day one in office but has failed to achieve thus far.
The CIA has to acknowledge the gravity of its “mistakes” as well. Its director John Brennan had apologized in July for secretly searching Feinstein’s staff computers in an attempt to derail the report, but no apology has come following the torture report. Closing Guantanamo Bay and ending impunity for those responsible for such violations, will be crucial in redefining U.S.’ role and message in the Middle East. Some officials in authoritarian regimes in the region, such as Assad’s advisor Buthaina Shaaban, often chastises the U.S. about Guantanamo Bay while thousands of Syrians are unaccounted for in horror dungeons and jails of the regime.
Hypocrisy will be the code word that many of such regimes will jump on in the Middle East, to exploit the Congress report and to justify their heinous records. It is the same old song that many in the region have heard for decades but it is losing traction given the discontent with those same regimes. The report will evidently be used as a propaganda tool by ISIS, but no more than images of Abu Ghraib, photos from Burma to Gaza depicting the suffering of Muslims.
Turning the tide and restoring U.S. credibility in the region demands a multi-pronged approach in the Middle East, that addresses the disaffection with U.S. policy beyond the symptomatic reaction to the torture report. While Obama might be reluctant to take on big tasks in the last two years of his presidency, going back to the drawing board on Syria and to his Cairo speech in 2009 can greatly serve his legacy and America’s standing in the region.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. This article was first published in Alarabiya.
Opinions do not necessarily reflect ARA News’ editorial policy.
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