Obama and Cameron’s campaign of self-affirmation, belligerency and outright war

A few days after the release of the CIA’s torture report the document is still being picked over for details of torture by journalists and tweeters. The points that particularly stick in the mind are waterboarding (one individual, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times), detainees forced to stand on broken legs, injuries purposely being worsened, ‘rectal rehydration’ and what is increasingly being described as rape. (Vox has a useful list of some of the more striking details emerging) As many tweets have pointed out, if this is what the CIA has chosen to reveal then what on earth are they hiding?

All this has apparently occurred in the name of the post-9/11 atmosphere of the ‘war on terror.’ One resounding result of this hyperbolic war is that politicians and super secret spy agencies are continually able to justify anything – and the reactions from Obama and Cameron below certainly support this theory – in the name of the war on extremism. A war that has created mass devastation and death for the regions of Iraq and Afghanistan, where hundreds of thousands of children have died, and, as many people suspected, detainees are unlawfully being tortured, It remains to be seen whether anybody will be held accountable for these atrocities (certainly not Tony Blair or George Bush) but for now the responses of Obama and Cameron reveal much about the political and social ramifications of their stances.


Barack Obama’s initial reaction to this shit show was that: “In the aftermath of 9/11, in the midst of a national trauma and uncertainty about whether these attacks were going to repeat themselves … what’s clear is that the CIA set up something very fast without a lot of forethought.The lines of accountability that needed to be set up weren’t always in place and some of these techniques that were described were not only wrong but were counterproductive.” in The GuardianLet’s pick this apart:

  • Obama and American political heavyweights are continuing to use 9/11 as a prop for their imperialist, colonialist aggressions. 9/11 has become an excuse for America to intervene in conflicts in both Asia and the Middle East and torture ‘extremists’ (read brown and/or Muslim people who by virtue of being brown and/or Muslim are to be suspected of terrorism. Not an identifier, I might add, that extends to white and/or Christian boys shooting a few people) even before the publication of this heavily redacted report into CIA torture methods.
  • Ohhhh, the CIA set it up. Not Obama or, indeed, the Obama administration. A convenient shifting of accountability given that when questioned about the CIA continuing to use the same torture methods detailed in the same report that “anybody who was doing the kind of things described in the report would not simply be keeping something from me, they would be directly violating the orders I have issued as commander in chief.” So either you did not order, have knowledge of or advocate the CIA’s torture methods or you, at the very least, knew about it and thus when the report was, partly, made public were able to slap them on the wrist and forbid them from defying their commander-in-chief. Can’t have it both ways, President Drone.
  • That last sentence is particularly remarkable. So, one more time: “The lines of accountability that needed to be set up weren’t always in place and some of these techniques that were described were not only wrong but were counterproductive.” You would be forgiven for thinking this is a middle manager talking about carelessly ordering too much a product for his company and having to apologise to the owner. But no. This is the President of the United States explaining why the CIA apparently didn’t bother to draw up stringent guidelines as to how far they were allowed to torture people for information. Obama has at least clearly stated his position – these techniques ‘were not only wrong but were counterproductive,’ thus implying that had they been successful he would at least have something to show for the myriad horrifying techniques that many men were brutalised with. Yes, it is wrong to torture people, yes it is wrong to do so without ‘accountability’ and these things are absolutely wrong, but worst of all, they are counterproductive.

David Cameron has responded by stating that “I’m satisfied that our system is dealing with all of these issues,” despite a report from last December stating that ‘inappropriate’ activity was carried out by Britain in the torture or rendition of suspects. He did clarify that ‘overall, torture is wrong.’ Obama and Cameron can afford to distance themselves and their governments from the initial post-9/11 order to torture suspects (or, in the case of those held indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay without charge, random people) as they weren’t in office themselves. Various experts have called for Cameron to publish Britain’s involvement in torture procedures in the name of the fight against terror yet it would appear Cameron considers the matter closed. Amnesty International have started a petition calling on the UK government to publish their role in these torture proceedings, especially given that according to The Guardian’s graphic of 9 countries hosting secret CIA torture prisons and 47 countries facilitating CIA torture it would be naive at best, and rank foolishness at worst to assume the CIA acted alone in torturing suspects and detainees.


In the 2003 preface to a reprint of Orientalism, Edward Said writes

‘my argument is that history is made by men and women, just as it can also be unmade and re-written, always with various silences and elisions, always with shapes imposed and disfigurements tolerated…there is a difference between knowledge of other peoples and other times that is the result of understanding, compassion, careful study and analysis for their own sakes, and on the other hand knowledge – if that is what it is – that is part of an overall campaign of self-affirmation, belligerency and outright war.’ (p. xiv)

Writing post-9/11, Said’s preface is particularly relevant to the landscapeof political maneuvering that the “Orient” has become. Cameron and Obama are not even accepting accountability or, at the very least, recognition of their knowledge of torture. Their gaping silence and claims of thorough investigations are part of their own ‘campaign of self-affirmation’ both as politicians and as instigators of structural violence against forms of extremism and terrorism which, by the CIA’s own admission, have revealed no results – no leads on terrorist plots, no details of growing extremist Muslim forces.

There is a growing web of complicity and accountability between the US and the UK especially. The argument of ‘the greater good’ cannot be used this time (there have been admissions of wrongdoing before and these will continue to be trotted out) as there was no concrete information gained (apart from the standard ‘classified information that saved untold lives’) and, so, what we have instead is denial. Cameron and Obama’s responses steadfastly ignore the bigger picture – ‘combating’ Islamic extremism whilst committing the very same atrocities and war crimes against the very people accused of doing the same.

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