THE STRATEGIC COST OF TORTURE, RACISM AND BIGOTRY
By Anthony H. Cordesman
15 Dec 14. It is natural for Americans to see the current debates over the CIA’s use of torture and police killings of young black men in domestic terms. It is equally natural for them to disregard a preacher who threatens to burn the Quran, and see low-level incidents of anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic prejudice as being at the far margins of American society. The grim reality, however, is that all three issues have an immense strategic cost beyond our borders, discredit America’s influence and values, and aid terrorists, extremists, and authoritarians throughout the world.
No one who has traveled in the Middle East and Asia can disregard the extent to which every local news media outlet immediately covered the details of the Senate report on the CIA’s use of torture, and the end result was to remind everyone—friendly or hostile to the United States—of the torture of Muslim prisoners by U.S. soldiers in Abu Ghraib. Everyone in the region read the same headlines about Ferguson, Missouri, and the other demonstrations of police killings of young black men as they appeared in the United States—usually taken verbatim off of Western wire services. Few Americans may recognize the name of religious extremists like Terry Jones, but virtually every Muslim knows about his threats to burn the Quran.
The Egyptian press used the Senate report to indirectly excuse the Egyptian regime’s repressive actions. The Islamic State was quick to accuse the United States and exploit the report in its recruiting literature. Marzieh Afkham, a spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said of the Senate report that, “The content of this shocking report shows violence, extremism, and secrecy as institutionalized in the U.S. security system…the illegal processes and inhumane measures…still continue and there has been no guarantee from the U.S. government to prevent the repetition of such disasters.”
Neo-authoritarian states such as Russia, China, and North Korea, and enemies such as Assad, the Islamic State, and al Qaeda, all know how to exploit such news and spin the headlines against the United States. The human rights envoy of Russia’s Foreign Ministry— Konstantin Dolgov—issued a statement saying of the Senate report that, “its contents are shocking… The published data is the latest proof of crude systemic violations of human rights by U.S. authorities… Such a state of affairs does not mesh with the United States’ claims to the title of a ‘paragon of democracy,’”
As the British newspaper the Guardian has reported, China’s state news agency devoted a special page to the Senate report, with the headline: “How long can the US pretend to be a human rights champion?” It also published an editorial stating that the United States “should clean up its own backyard first and respect the rights of other countries to resolve their issues by themselves… America is neither a suitable role model nor a qualified judge on human rights issues in other countries, as it claims to be.”
The state news agency of North Korea issued a commentary asking “Why the UNSC is turning its face from the inhuman torture practiced by the CIA over which the UN anti-torture committee expressed particular concern and which is dealt with in the 6,000-page-long report presented by the intelligence committee of the US Senate, and such despicable human rights abuses as white American policemen’s brutalities of shooting and strangling black men to death.”
People all over the world read the same news reports as Americans that young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than young white men, that a black man is killed every 28 hours by police or security guards, and statistics on how many died in 2013 or so far in 2014. These numbers may be uncertain, but it is all too clear that racism remains a critical problem in the United States. This is not a casual issue in a world where well