The CIA Torture Report Is Causing Political Ripples Overseas

Bangkok, on Dec. 11 Photograph by Narong Sangnak/EPA

The executive summary of the report released this week by the Senate Intelligence Committee on the Central Intelligence Agency’s brutal detention interrogation practices after 9/11 offers the most damning assessment of the agency in four decades. In the mid-1970s, the Church Committee, another Senate entity, issued reports that condemned the CIA for spying within the U.S., attempting to assassinate foreign leaders, working with the Mafia on operations, and other abuses.

Amid the furor in Washington about how the torture report will affect the agency, the U.S., and even the 2016 presidential elections, little attention has been paid to another impact of the report’s release. The report is likely to have significant effects on politics in several of the countries that were home to the dungeon-like prisons where the CIA, and local intelligence officers, detained and harshly treated prisoners.

One of these countries is Thailand. A formal U.S. ally, Thailand was led in the early 2000s by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, an elected leader but a man with little interest in the rule of law. Thaksin oversaw a “war on drugs” in Thailand that resulted in the extrajudicial killing of some 2,500 Thai suspects. Thai intelligence and the CIA reportedly moved some of the highest-profile detainees in the war on terror, including Abu Zubydah, a senior Al Qaeda figure, to a “black site” safe house in Thailand. Although Thaksin reportedly was not initially informed by Thai intelligence when the black site was created, he reportedly later was informed about it. In Thailand, Abu Zubydah allegedly was repeatedly waterboarded, subjected to physical assaults, tortured with sleep deprivation in stress positions, and subjected to other inhumane treatments.

Thaksin was forced into exile by a coup in 2006, and his sister, also elected, was deposed in a coup in May of this year. Although the country remains under martial law, and Thai media are extremely wary of publishing anything critical of the government, the Thai press has covered the torture report extensively.

Most likely, according to several Thai sources, the military-dominated Thai government will attempt to keep the report in the news to tar Thaksin, as well as to distract attention from the rights abuses currently being perpetrated against Thais by the Bangkok regime. Coverage of the report may indeed hurt attempts by Thaksin and his party to portray themselves to the public as committed democrats who are far more enlightened than the harsh army rulers running Thailand now. The generals will have to be careful how they point fingers, however, since they have close links to Thai intelligence, and many of the military men currently running Thailand held senior army positions a decade ago as well.

In Afghanistan, reportedly home to some of the most notorious CIA detention facilities, the report could be a bombshell as well. After the report’s release, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reportedly stayed up all night reading it and gave a speech on Afghan national television decrying the CIA’s practices as against “all accepted norms of human rights abuses in the world.” Ghani’s harsh condemnation suggests that the report could well undermine U.S.-Afghan cooperation, which was beginning to stabilize under the technocratic Ghani after the mercurial Hamid Karzai regime. The revelations may undercut Ghani and his program of political and economic reform, as well. Ghani declared that the abuses happened in an earlier era, suggesting a break between that time and his current administration, yet he served as a senior Afghan cabinet minister in the early 2000s.

The report is reverberating in Eastern Europe, too. Lithuanian leaders are publicly calling on the CIA to disclose whether it tortured prisoners at black sites in Lithuania, which appears to be one country named in the report as housing detainees. Lithuania’s former president, Valdas Adamkus, who was in power at the time of the CIA’s detention program and remains a revered figure in Lithuania, maintains there were no black sites in his country. A Lithuanian parliamentary investigation, and the eventual release of more details from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, may undermine that claim. Or the investigation may reveal that Lithuanian intelligence agencies worked with the CIA without informing Lithuanian leaders, suggesting a dangerous lack of government accountability, which has plagued Lithuania since the fall of communism.

Only in Poland, reportedly home to another CIA detention center, has the report’s release had little apparent impact on domestic politics. Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who had previously denied that the CIA ran a detention center in his country, has admitted that he had indeed allowed the agency to operate a site in Poland—yet most Polish leaders publicly announced that the report would not change strong relations between Washington and Warsaw. Anxieties about Russian aggression dominate public discussion in Poland and will likely prevent a surge of anti-Americanism. In addition, the current Polish prime minister, Ewa Kopacz, was not in government in the early 2000s, unlike Thaksin or Ashraf Ghani, and so can credibly claim she knew nothing about the CIA prisons at the time.

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