A BBC Panorama documentary aired last week that discussed the use of torture in the War on Terror, should be seen as a subtle piece of propaganda for torture apologists. It catalogues a series of torture techniques used by the CIA as part of their Enhanced Interrogation Programme that was born in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Whilst the documentary shows some of the horrors and violations that were committed as a result of the CIA’s torture programme, there are a number of problems with the piece that will not be obvious to the casual viewer. We list them here:
- It reframes the torture debate to excuse its illegality: The piece deliberately frames the discussion around utility and effectiveness of torture rather than questioning whether this form of interrogation is ever moral, legal, or compliant with international norms and conventions.
- It fails to discuss accountability: Panorama fails to raise the crucial point that hundreds of individuals have fallen victim to the CIA’s torture programme, yet there has been no justice or accountability for any of the perpetrators. Panorama provides airtime to individuals who aim to justify these actions by showing that, in some cases, interrogation by torture has provided results and allegedly saved lives. The question should not be, “is torture the way to fight terrorism?” Or, “how far should we go to fight terrorism?” But rather the questions we should be asking are “Is torture ever justified?” and “What needs to be done to stop torture ever taking place?”
- It fails to give a voice to torture survivors: For a feature length documentary on torture, Panorama manages to relate the story of only one survivor. Mohammed El-Shari’ya, a Libyan detained at Bagram before being rendered to Libya under the despotic rule of Ghadaffi spoke to Panorama about the crude medieval form of torture used against him. CAGE had already published his testimony as part of a documentary it produced two years ago.
- It sidesteps British involvement in the CIA torture and rendition programme: The documentary barely touches upon the involvement of British officials and agents in acts of torture. When asked whether he felt that British intelligence knew about the torture that was taking place, Buzzy Krongard (CIA Executive director 2001-2004) said: “They are professional intelligence people. Obviously.” CAGE was one of the first organisations to investigate and document British complicity in rendition and torture from back in 2006. Panorama chose to ignore this and other more substantive studies published since. At the time Jack Straw, foreign secretary, denied all allegations of British complicity in torture calling them “conspiracy theories” with the aim of covering up the truth and shutting down the debate. Today the State continues to use such methods against CAGE accusing the organisation of spreading ‘lies’ and ‘scaremongering’ regarding the organisation’s predictions of the effects of the new anti-terror laws. These ‘lies’ have in fact turned out to be true yet again.
- “We tortured some folk”: What the BBC has done is presented the systematic use of torture by the United States as an almost momentary blip. It happened, and it wasn’t good, but we should accept it and just move on.
CAGE began campaigning against torture from the start of the War on Terror and calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison. In 2006, CAGE was the first organisation to publish a comprehensive list, exposing over 100 secret prisons across the world that were used to detain and torture suspects extra-judicially.
Perpetrators of torture must be brought to justice. CAGE will continue to call for justice and accountability.
Throughout the years and since the organisation’s inception, CAGE has remained consistent and has repeatedly called for a halt to illegal state practices imposed as part of the War on Terror. CAGE has called for a return to the rule of law and upholding basic rights for all individuals. It is due to this very work – humanising survivors, documenting abuses and calling for accountability – that the security state and the political establishment have launched a systematic attack against our organisation.
We call on the general public and our supporters to stand by CAGE, support us and add your voice to calls for justice and accountability.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)