Criticism of CIA abuses is being incorrectly and unthinkingly extended to other US agencies

Debate on CIA abuses 2001-06 has become so polarised ideologically that key facts and legal principles are being ignored. In particular, other US agencies which did not torture prisoners, and which spoke out against such abuses, are being wrongly accused of torturing. The role of the US Supreme Court in restoring the rule-of-law is also being wrongly ignored.


Letter to The Canberra Times
Friday, 19 December 2014
(published Tuesday, 23 December 2014)

Objective readers must surely be puzzled how the words of my December 15 letter — such as “CIA’s undoubted breaches of international humanitarian law”, and “there is no doubt CIA torture seriously contravened IHL, and the ethical standards expected of any liberal-democracy” — could somehow be misconstrued by Geoff Barker (Letters, December 18) as “an attempt to justify the atrocities of the CIA”.

Geoff also ignores my two key points about needing to differentiate between the detention and interrogation records of different US agencies, and the ground-breaking effect of US Supreme Court rulings extending some Geneva Convention protections to those captured belligerents who do not qualify as prisoners-of-war (such as David Hicks).

None of these points excuse the CIA for anything.

Indeed they further highlight the culpability of the CIA and those meant to supervise them, and the restoration of the rule-of-law.

Finally, like many, Geoff also seems to misunderstand key facts and applicable international law.

  • The US military, and the FBI, have not allowed abusive CIA interrogations at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre — operated by the former under the Geneva Conventions and regularly inspected by the International Committee of the Red Cross as the authorised inspecting power.
  • CIA torture occurred elsewhere at overseas “black sites” and, according to the US Senate Report, ceased in 2006.
  • While always inexcusable, IHL breaches by US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been prevalent proportional to the numbers deployed or in comparison to most countries in the international coalition.
  • Abuses at Abu Ghraib were by a few ill-disciplined guards for a short time, not interrogators, and were reported and punished.
  • Hicks' detention and his later, separate and questionable, criminal trial are entirely discrete issues legally and ethically.
  • Hicks was never tortured by the CIA or, it seems, anyone else.


 [The "Geoff Barker" mentioned above is not Geoffrey Barker, the distinguished and longtime former defence correspondent for The Australian Financial Review]

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