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Marco Werman: The torture report is a form of propaganda for terrorist groups that they may choose to exploit. Militant organizations often get propaganda ideas from the US. Look at the orange jumpsuits ISIS makes their prisoners wear: standard garb at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Rami Khouri is a syndicated columnist and fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School and the American University of Beirut.
Rami Khouri: Well, what the groups are doing, and they don’t think of themselves as terrorist groups but that’s how the West and most of the world, and most of the Arab world, sees them -- they are trying to send a message to the United States and to the Western world that, first of all, they are prepared to take on the West or challenge them in many ways. So, the Americans kill people with drones and ISIS kills people by chopping their heads off. That’s a message that’s supposed to say “We’re not afraid of you and we’re even willing to emulate what you do by dressing our prisoners in orange suits,” but also the sophisticated use of technology. The basic message of these groups is that this a war.
Werman: There’s a lot of concern right now in the US about what this CIA torture program, the report, has revealed. What do you think that actually does to energize terrorists? What have you seen?
Khouri: It’s really hard to tell but my gut instinct is going to tell me, they may mention this in their propaganda, but I don’t think they’re going to make a big deal of it because that would make them to be seen as reacting to what Americans do. They were attacking the United States -- only recently they started criticizing the West and telling people to attack the American and French interests. But that only happened after the Americans attacked them in northern Iraq. Al-Qaeda is different -- al-Qaeda oriented its attacks against the United States five or six years after al-Qaeda was formed. But these guys are not directing their military actions against the West in any great manner. That might change. They might find it useful to do that. But if they were to do that, they would do it simply to provoke the United States to come back in with even more military action in the region, which creates more chaos, which allows them to spread.
Werman: You say most people in the Middle East abhor ISIS. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they love the United States. With this CIA torture report out now, the narrative kind of remains that the US did bad stuff but it was for the fight for freedom. So now with this report out, how do people in the Middle East view us, do you think?
Khouri: I think most people would shrug their shoulders and say “Well, you know, we’ve always known that the United States and some of its closest allies do this,” and they’ll say “We know that our own Arab governments, in some cases, do this.” Most of the Arab world will not be that surprised by these revelations because they’ve had this process of torture happening to them in their own countries.
Werman: We had a guest on The World yesterday who says it was important the US released the documents, the CIA report. “Even though they’re ugly, it shows that we publicly acknowledge our faults, debate them and then we move on.” He’s indicating we’re an upstanding country because we do such things. What do you think of that take?
Khouri: I agree absolutely. Purely within the context of American values and political conduct, the whole historical contribution of the concept of the United States of America was citizenship based on the consent of the government, the government by the people, for the people, and of the people. Therefore, the people need to know what is being done in their name so that the people, the citizens, can maintain a certain value system in public life that reflects what’s written in their Declaration of Independence. So, it’s a very difficult but very important moment for the United States. This is a very American moment.
Werman: That was Rami Khouri from Harvard’s Kennedy School.