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Challenging the Government's Use of Torture: CIA Under Fire

Activist groups such as Witness Against Torture and CODEPINK have responded to recent Senate findings on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, organizing protests around the country. During the tour, the grassroots groups held protests in the Senate Gallery and at the homes of CIA Director John Brennan and former Vice President Dick Cheney, demanding accountability for the findings of the report, which they believed showed the CIA had abused detainees.

“I have long believed some of these practices amounted to torture,” Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a speech before the Senate. “Its use was shameful and unnecessary, and, contrary to assertions made by some of its defenders…it produced little useful intelligence to help us track down the perpetrators of 9/11 or prevent new attacks and atrocities.”

In December of 2014, the United States Senate Intelligence Committee released a 500-page report summarizing the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program and detailing the “enhanced interrogation” tactics used by the CIA on suspected terrorists from 2002 through 2009. The tactics, which many say amount to torture, include waterboarding, sleep deprivation, beatings and threats of sexual abuse. 

In response to the report, politicians, watchdog groups and international organizations have condemned the CIA’s actions, with the United Nations and the American Civil Liberties Union among the groups demanding criminal prosecution of those who authorized the program. 

“Our elected officials supported, paid for and allowed horrific acts of torture, murder and abuse to take place all in the name of the War on Terror,” said Christopher Knestrick, a member of Witness Against Torture, which participated in the protests. “If we are serious about ending the War on Terror, if we are serious about being a country that supports democracy and the rule of law, then we have to seek accountability for the people that supported these actions.”

On Jan. 12, two days after the torture tour, protesters from Witness Against Torture interrupted Senate proceedings demanding the closure of Guantanamo Bay and prosecution of those involved in the CIA’s Interrogation Program. They were escorted out of the Senate gallery by police.

Despite the passion of protesters, a recent Washington Post poll found that 58 percent of respondents believe torture of suspected terrorists can be justified, and 57 percent believe no criminal charges should be filed against officials responsible for the CIA interrogation activities. 

In spite of such attitudes, Knestrick believes protests remain important, especially for those still detained in Guantanamo Bay despite being cleared for release by the Department of Defense. 

“It’s hard to say if 100 [protesters] getting arrested on a given weekend is impactful; it’s hard to see that although I do think it is,” he said. “What I do know is that it’s impactful to the men in Guantanamo. It gives them a sense of hope knowing that there are U.S. citizens making sure they’re not forgotten.” 

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