3. “The CIA interrogators told Abu Zubaydah that the only way he would leave the facility was in the coffin-shaped confinement box… At times Abu Zubaydah was described as ‘hysterical’ and ‘distressed to the level that he was unable to effectively communicate.’ Waterboarding sessions ‘resulted in immediate fluid intake and involuntary leg, chest and arm spasms’ and ‘hysterical pleas.’” (Senate, p.42-44)
4. In November 2002 a CIA officer “ordered that Gul Rahman be shackled to the wall of his cell in a position that required the detainee to rest on the bare concrete floor. Rahman was wearing only a sweatshirt.” The CIA officer “ordered that Rahman’s clothing be removed when he had been judged to be uncooperative during and earlier interrogation. The next day, the guards found Gul Rahman’s dead body.” (Senate, p.50)
Whether coming as a result of errant drone strikes, missiles accidentally hitting civilians, or widespread knowledge of past U.S. interrogation abuses, American credibility and trustworthiness has been seriously degraded.
This loss of international credibility and trust are not mere embarrassments. There have tangible consequences. American diplomats have never had less influence than they do today. We’ve seen cabinet secretaries openly ridiculed by allies, and in other countries publicly treated in insulting ways. Worse, American statecraft overall is losing the ability to shape or effectively influence events in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. States are less willing to work with us, require increasing amount in return for what we ask of them, and in general constrain what we can accomplish internationally—which weakens the overall fabric of American security.
In addition to undercutting our physical security, these actions and behaviors also do harm to the very nature of what it means to be an American. There is a troubling incongruity between a nation populated by millions of kind, compassionate, hardworking and fair-minded citizens that seem willing, at the governmental level, to underwrite their security at the expense of the lives of innocent people abroad. Can we comfortably justify operations designed to protect innocent American lives by attacking terrorist targets overseas that result in the deaths of considerable numbers of equally innocent and valuable citizens of other countries?
The soul of America has always been characterized by a people that protects the weak, stands up for those who can’t stand alone, and sometimes even sacrifices our own lives in the defense of others. We are justly proud of our country for the many times we have performed such sacrificial services. But the privilege of maintaining that honorable banner must be constantly re-earned. Our reputation today cannot stand on the laurels earned by previous generations.
If we want to once again be worthy of emulation by people around the globe while still guaranteeing the security of the American people, we must demonstrate fortitude and courage by admitting that some of our policies and actions have in the past been incongruous with American values. Our leaders should then, where appropriate, make restitution for past sins, and commit themselves to correcting mistakes of the past by adopting logical and effective policies going forward. If America fails to make such corrections, we may one day discover we have accumulated more ill-will than we can handle. On that day the bill may be greater than any of us can afford to pay.
Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after twenty-one years, including four combat deployments.
Image: Creative Commons