news Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 05:30

Chitra Subramaniam | The News Minute | December 10, 2014 | 06:53 pm IST

It is no small irony that today is the United Nation’s (UN) Human Rights Day– a day when the world will be reading the 500 page summary of 6,700 page report on how the CIA tortured people following the 9/11 attack in New York.

Rectal feeding, waterboarding, made to stand on broken legs, rendition, lying, sleep deprivation and hiding all this from the government of that time and the next (George Bush and Barrack Obama) are detailed in the United States Senate Report on their Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) activities. Not that the world didn’t know something was seriously wrong as bits and pieces of the much-awaited report had started leaking months ago. But between knowing and proving is where the courage and cowardice stand – courage of a system that is willing to face its own cowardice. Can we expect the same from other countries who worked with the CIA on this?

Over 6000 pages of the report (the result of studying 6.3 million pages of CIA documents) are still classified. The worst mistake to make now would be to assume that injustice detailed and exposed is justice delivered. It is not and it may never be - the road to credibility and justice will be long, if not impossible, leaving in its wake questions that no nation can answer independently. 

The UN’s Special Rapporteur has already said “…as a matter of international law, the US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice.” That means the 53 other countries that assisted the CIA in this international torture effort including many European democracies, countries in Africa and distant Australia will also have to stand up and be counted. Several positive steps could follow the lead taken by the US senate, but the likelihood of that happening is unlikely. Time will tell if talk about human rights matches action. Western nations are the key donors to the UN family so it is unlikely that the family of nations will go beyond a report, a special session and a condemnation. There is work here for the International Court of Justice too and it remains to be seen how they act. 

On the other hand it will be business as usual for every despot and dictator and terror groups around the world especially in the middle-east. Calls for human rights, respect for the Geneva Conventions (which are negotiated rules for wartime conduct including treatment of POWs) and other legal instruments for which countries have worked over decades will be ignored with aplomb.

India did not participate in this gruesome exercise – at least there is no evidence till date. But before we pat ourselves on our backs, we have to ask how we treat our prisoners in times of peace. What happens to the thousands of men women and children who languish and die in India’s prisons without being heard? How do we torture criminals and are there rules that define the limits? Is the rule book available for public scrutiny? In 2002, India’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had said 16 out of the 19 police encounters with suspected Maoists in Guntur and Kurnool districts were fake and asked that the families be compensated. There are many more unexplained deaths in encounters and accidents. Where are we today with operation green hunt launched in 2009 against naxalites and other terror groups?

The CIA report is an opportunity if governments wish to seize it. In the absence of that, there will be more cynicism and a few weeks down the line, it will be just another damning report about deep states that historians and students of international law will pore over.

Read the Senate report here.

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