The Guardian reported the day before yesterday that the Central Intelligence Agency is “working closely” Palestinian security forces who are known to torture Hamas members.
Of course, this isn’t shocking. CIA has a long tradition of supporting regimes that torture, murder, and violate human rights in any number of ways. This is in Latin America, in the Middle East, around the world. In pursuit of American interests overseas, Washington is almost always willing to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses. American support for Egypt is, naturally, the first example that comes to my mind.
This isn’t to say that CIA support for Fatah torturers shouldn’t be condemned. This is important because this fits in with a pattern of torturing Islamist militants that has developed over the last eight years.
Barack Obama has said he wants to end torture and secret imprisonment. So far his movement in this direction has been slow. Despite a brief flutter of excitement over the summer when Attorney General Eric Holder said there would be an investigation, it seems clear that those who condoned and practiced torture during the Bush Administration will not be held accountable. Meanwhile, the Guantanamo prison remains open eleven months after Barack Obama took office. Just now are American policymakers seriously talking about what to do with the prisoners.
There has been no new evidence of CIA or American military torturing people in the last year (correct me on this if I’m wrong), but it could happen again. I think that during the Bush Administration, the CIA was let off the chain when it comes to torture and now they’re hooked.
Something comparable happened during the early years of the Cold War when CIA got very comfortable using covert operations to take out regimes in the Third World. Once they started they couldn’t stop, even after it became clear that the tactic didn’t always work out. See Bay of Pigs after the 1957 Syrian Crisis, for example.
The Central Intelligence Agency is prone to going rogue. I think it’s in the organization’s nature. Because much of what they do is clandestine, they are able to resist scrutiny from outside. In the 1950s and 1960s this meant that they could plot assassinations and coups with impunity. Now it means that they can torture prisoners and assist others in torture.
The exposure of CIA complicity in the torture of Hamas members in Palestine is not surprising. It is, however, yet another indication that the organization needs to be reigned in.