Activists fear torture report may hurt work on human rights

WASHINGTON, US, Jo Biddle- US rights activists fear their work around the globe may be hampered by revelations of a brutal CIA torture program, but hope confronting past transgressions can help America rebuild its moral authority.
In excruciating detail, the report describes crude torture methods straight from the pages of Medieval history books -- waterboarding, hanging people for hours from their wrists, locking them in tiny coffin-shaped boxes.
One secret black site where CIA officers sought to "break" Al-Qaeda suspects in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States was even known as "the dungeon."

The expose tells how one man died of suspected hypothermia after being left naked and chained to a concrete cell floor, an incident one rights activist said could be seen as "murder."
"There's no question that America's moral authority has suffered greatly from the use of torture and cruel treatment after 9/11," senior counsel for the US-based non-governmental group Human Rights First, Raha Wala, told AFP.
"Our hope is that by publishing this report, that this might be the first step in a long process by which American policy makers and the American people themselves can come to terms with the abuses committed after 9/11 and really ... correct past mistakes in order to regain some of that moral authority."
It's a poignant moment for the US human rights community struggling to come to terms with a litany of abuse from the very country where values of freedom, dignity and human rights are constantly held up as an example to others.
"When America breaks faith with its own ideals it diminishes our ability to advance freedom and dignity around the world, it provides an excuse to those who would abuse human rights," said Elisa Massimino, president of Human Rights First.
She was speaking at a long-planned dinner to honor Senator Dianne Feinstein, who as chairman of the Senate intelligence committee pushed for the report's publication, and John McCain, one of its strongest advocates, for their work against torture.
"As a member of the global community, as an American citizen, as a human rights advocate, I feel a deep personal sense of shame, of shock, of horror, of anger in reading the details of some of what my government did in my name," Wala said.
"And there's no question that the United States is looked at differently around the world because of these abuses."
- 'Ugly period' -
Some groups are now pushing for those responsible to be brought to justice -- in much the same way that top US officials systematically demand accountability for those behind shocking abuses around the world.
The United States is a signatory to the global Convention Against Torture which it ratified in 1994 and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki insisted "we are in compliance" with the pact.
She insisted, too, that America had not lost its moral standing.
Releasing the report was a bid to be transparent, "look back at the mistakes made in the past and hopefully move forward," she said.
"We hold ourselves accountable to an ugly, horrible period, and we should be proud of our ability to do that," Secretary of State John Kerry said this week.
Psaki also highlighted how at a meeting in Geneva last month of the UN Committee on Torture "we underscored that all personnel are legally prohibited under international and domestic law from engaging in torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment at all times and in all places."
Yet so far President Barack Obama has made no move to prosecute officials working on the five-year program under the previous administration of president George W. Bush.
"By refusing to prosecute, Obama is keeping torture as a misguided policy option for some future American president," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of the US-based Human Rights Watch, in a statement.
He said he hopes Obama will see that the torture program "was not just wrong, it was not just unhelpful, but it was illegal and should be prosecuted."

Saturday, December 13th 2014
Jo Biddle

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