The US contortions over how they treated suspects and prisoners post 9/11 are unfortunate for the leader of the western world. Republicans see the report into the CIA as partisan, partial and unhelpful. They both argue that the practices the US adopted were not torture, and that they needed to be tough to find out what might happen next to keep the US people safe from further attack. Many Democrats think the report is fine, and reveals a wrong culture at the CIA authorised by a previous administration.
Democrats have to remember that they did not make large objections at the time, and remind themselves that there was considerable continuity of policy on transition to President Obama. We were promised the closure of Guantanamo Bay, with all to face a fair trial or discharge. That did not happen. The Anglo Saxon system and values of habeas corpus, a suspect knowing the charges, and having the right to his days in court to defend himself did not materialise for some detainees.
Of course the west has to be firm in defence of freedom, and cannot be starry eyed or too idealistic in a far from perfect world. Nor, however, should the west descend to the standards of those who pose the greatest threat to our freedom and way of life. Our ancestors banned slavery, banned torture, demanded fair trial and evidence to prove guilt before punishment for good reasons. If the USA departed from these values she has to apologise and promise not to repeat the mistakes in the future.
It is true there are many evil governments and some brutal regimes around the world, and some very unpleasant political movements who resort to force to get their way. Sometimes we have no choice but to confront them. Sometimes we can confront them successfully to improve things for others. As we do so, we need to demonstrate the superiority of our belief in respecting individual’s freedoms and establishing guilt before appropriate punishment.
We also need to know what part the UK played in this worrying story. Our senior officers, armed service personnel generally and representatives need clear instructions about our belief in following the rule of law and sticking to appropriate rules of engagement and rules governing prisoner treatment.