Two Important Lessons Americans Should Learn From the Senate Torture Report

As Americans digest the contents of the just released Senate Report on CIA’s use of torture, here are two important lessons that they ought to internalize.

  1. The release of the report neither absolves America of the deeds highlighted therein, nor does it mean that such gross violations of the rights of non-Americans have ended. As Mother Jones reported back in 2012, President Obama may have ended officially sanctioned torture, but as it continued to wage the global war on terror America merely “outsourced human rights abuse to Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere” through rendition programs. In addition, CFR has calculated that over the course of 500 drone strikes under both the Bush and Obama administrations 41 men were targeted, but 1147 people were killed. Dangerous terrorists should be taken out, by all means. But at some point we must begin to ask questions about what ought to constitute an upper limit of tolerable collateral damage. Especially in relation to the lives of innocent non-combatants.
  2. By outsourcing illegal practices to governments in the developing world America is contributing to the weakening of institutions of accountability in those countries and the radicalization of potential jihadists. Six months ago I argued for caution in the ongoing militarization of US-Africa relations. My worry is that many American security arrangements with African governments are designed to bypass normal democratic channels (like direct military to military cooperation) and risk creating unaccountable militaries and governments. In Kenya, for instance, it is increasingly unclear whether the military or the elected civilian administration is in charge of national security policy (especially with regard to the mission in Somalia). Nairobi has also recently been on the spotlight accused of engaging in extra-judicial killings of suspected terrorists with foreign assistance. In addition, many governments in the region that cooperate with the US have enacted sweeping anti-terror laws, many designed to also silence domestic political dissent. If it is not yet abundantly clear, it is high time American policymakers realized that unaccountable and highly securitized governments play into the hands of jihadist recruiters.

The release of the report is certainly commendable. It is a shining example of the virtues of separation of powers, something that America, more than any other nation in history, has perfected. But it is not an end in and of itself. It ought to be a first step in acknowledging that human rights do not end at the water’s edge, and putting pressure on elected officials to devise national security and foreign relations policies that respect this fact. Despite what some Americans may say, respecting the rights of non-Americans and their desire for accountable political and military institutions will not weaken America. On the contrary it will make it stronger by bolstering its soft power, and safer.

quick hits…..

This is total nonsense. Kenyan politicians never cease to surprise me. Why would we want a foreigner heading our electoral commission? And this coming from our own Prime Minister? Where is your Kenyan pride, Prime Minister Odinga? Are you saying that out of almost 40 million men and women we cannot find one individual who is sober-minded and impartial enough to be trusted with the job of being chairman of the interim ECK? We expect more nationalism than this from you Mr. Odinga. Your statement sends a most ominous message – that all Kenyans are myopic, conceited tribalists who cannot be trusted with the running of an institution like the ECK. And that is just sad. And about foreigners… don’t get me started. It is my hope that when you thought about foreigners you meant someone from one of the 54 countries on the continent, because otherwise I would be doubly mad at you.

Finally, the Kenyan police’s bad habits have been brought to light:
The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary executions, Mr. Philip Alston, has carried out investigations and found the Kenyan police and justice system guilty of summarily executing suspected criminals – mostly in Eastern Nairobi and the surrounding areas. The envoy’s report recommends the sacking of Attorney General Amos Wako and Police Commissioner Hussein Ali. I second this recommendation. This report exposes the government’s failure to maintain a functioning society in poor areas of the country and its attempts to cover up its failure and the rot that is the justice system by killing people without a trial. The crime problem in Eastern Nairobi and the surrounding areas is one of poverty and poor planning on the part of the government.

Poverty alleviating measures – like vocational training or micro-credit schemes – could be of help to the thousands of youth in this part of the country who find themselves without any alternative but to engage in crime for a living. The government could also reduce the crime rate by keeping young kids in school. Most of the thugs terrorizing residents of Eastern Nairobi are primary school and high school drop outs. Investing in schools and programs that keep teens in school could be the way forward. A more controversial plan could also be an attempt to have families be more responsible for how their children turn out. We cannot ignore the fact that poor parenting leads to social problems like crime, unwanted teenage pregnancies and the like. Public education on parenting might sound crass and too paternalistic to some but it might just be what some families need.

I am glad that the international community is paying attention to this problem. A lot of young Kenyans (mostly criminals, and suspected members of the murderous Mingiki sect) have been killed without being accorded due trial. Although most of them might have been guilty of robbery with violence, or murder (crimes deserving capital punishment according to Kenyan law) we are not Somalia or the Congo. We have laws and a court system. I hope Kibaki and Raila will carefully review the recommendations of the report and do something.