Why the Muslim World Isn’t Flipping Out Over the CIA Torture Report

Sure, they torture people in the Middle East—but we need to better than that. In fact, we need to prosecute those who tortured prisoners.

12.12.14 12:45 AM ET

What happened to the outrage we were supposed to see across the “Muslim world” after the U.S. Senate released its report documenting the CIA’s torture of Muslim prisoners? White House press secretary Josh Earnest had warned us Monday that the release of the report could pose a great risk “to U.S. facilities and individuals all around the world.” 

And Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, rang the alarm bells by declaring, “Our own intelligence community has assessed that this will cause violence and deaths.”    

Perhaps the intelligence about these predicted protests was gathered using enhanced interrogation techniques, which explains why the information was wrong.

Sure, I can understand why some would think that there would be riots once people in Muslim world heard that we had waterboarded, rectally fed, and even killed some Muslims during interrogation. After all, we’ve seen violent protests in the Middle East before in response to actions in the West.

For example, in February 2012, after it was revealed that U.S. soldiers had burned copies of the Quran in Afghanistan, deadly riots broke out there that lasted for days and led to the deaths of more than 30 Afghans and six Americans. 

And there were much wider protests later in 2012 after the anti-Islam movie trailer, “Innocence of Muslims,” appeared on YouTube. That video sparked protests in 20 countries, including several deadly ones such as the riot outside the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, shortly before the deadly attack there that took the lives of four Americans.  

But there are two reasons why the torture report has resulted in nothing more—to date—than a few public condemnations and a slew of snarky tweets by ISIS supporters using the hashtag #torturereport. 

First, people across the Middle East have seen their own governments employ horrible forms of torture for years. It’s one of the oppressive techniques utilized by their respective leaders to remain in power. 

We all heard about Saddam Hussein’s use of torture, which included beating people with bats and even raping women in front of their husbands. Ironically, Saddam’s torture of prisoners was one of reasons the Bush administration gave for our need to remove him from power.  

In Afghanistan, Amnesty International documented the torture of political prisoners dating back to 1979.  Former Egyptian leader and U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak, between 1993 and 2008, had his forces torture at least 460 people, which led to the death of 167 prisoners, per the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights. 

And Israel has been long known for using harsh methods against Palestinian prisoners, such as beatings with weapons, as reported in detail by the Israeli human-rights group B’Tselem. In fact, the Senate report noted that the CIA had cited an Israeli supreme court decision—that allowed such tactics if the prisoner was considered a “ticking bomb”—as legal justification for their actions. 

The second, and what I see as the bigger reason for a collective shrug from the Muslim world, was what we didn’t see in the report. There were no allegations that the jailers engaged in desecrating Islam.

The common denominator in the most violent protests against Western actions has been when Islam had been insulted. I’m talking Quran burnings, cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, etc. Not only does such conduct truly offend many Muslims; it gives some right-wing Muslim clerics and unfriendly government leaders the ammunition to gin up anti-Western sentiment to further their own agendas.

Keep in mind, too, that some of these so-called Islamic terrorists who were tortured had killed far more Muslims than Americans. Consequently, there’s little sympathy or support for the detainees other than from the tiny percentage of people who subscribe to their views.

Now, just so its clear, simply because other nations in the Middle East have utilized torture doesn’t make it morally acceptable for us to do the same. Nor is it any defense, as some on the right have claimed, that what we did is not nearly as bad as ISIS’s beheading of people. Are we really going to use ISIS as our standard of right and wrong?

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We can’t. As John McCain powerfully stated on the Senate floor Monday, the “question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.”

That means we need to do more than just release the information about torture to the public. We must investigate, and if violations of the law are found, criminally prosecute those who engaged in, and ordered, this misconduct.

We followed that very course after we learned about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in 2003. Nine U.S. Army soldiers were court-martialed and convicted of crimes in connection with that scandal. That sent a clear message to our military, and to the world, that this is not what Americans should be doing in our nation’s name, even if we are at war. 

We must do the same thing now. As McCain so eloquently stated Monday, we must not “risk our national honor to prevail in this or any war.” Instead we must show that America “is different, stronger, and better than those who would destroy us.” 

Prosecuting those involved in torturing prisoners will do just that. Anything less will mean than we are only slightly better as a nation than those who want to destroy us. Shouldn’t we be better than that?