According to the report, the accusers include the US army and the FBI, both of whom have stated that "Other Government Agencies" have openly flouted the rule of law - indeed, any rules at all, in order to get what they want.
Or, at least, try to. The report documents cases where information "extracted" from prisoners under duress has proven to be fabricated. A means of giving the torturers what they want to hear, to avoid further anguish.
Anyone familiar with the history of torture will immediately recognize this argument. Torture has long been banned, not because of "humanitarian reasons" (since when did Governments ever care about the rights of individuals?) but because the technique was so horribly unreliable that keeping it as an acceptable method of interrogation was tantamount to informational suicide.
The same reason is why courts don't permit information extracted under duress. Anyone'll sign a confession, or even give a confession, even if ludicrous, to avoid continual pain. Indeed, the requirements by many countries (such as the US and UK) that a prisoner be read their rights and have access to a lawyer is to prevent the situation where a person is simply brow-beaten into confessing to something they didn't do.
Those from the UK will remember the case of the Birmingham Six, where the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad used coercion and torture to secure confessions by the accused men. It took a long time, but forensics showed that confessions had been tampered with, that wholly improper practices had been used, and that the men had likely nothing to do with the crime.
So why carry out the torture? Simple. The West Midlands unit was under extreme political pressure to get results and to get them fast. No matter what. As they had absolutely nothing to go on, and minimal time to do any real investigation, they chose the only way out - find people they could beat into confessing, and have them convicted instead.
It worked, too, for about 20 years. After that case came back to trial (with the release of five of the men - the sixth had died in prison) many other cases by the same unit were re-examined. Of those, many of the people convicted were convicted on unsubstantiated, uncorroberated and unwitnessed "confessions" extracted by dubious means and often subsequently altered to fit the facts as they became better known.
Does this apply in the case of the "War on Terror", though? After all, we must surely be a lot more certain as to the identities of the people involved!
Apparently not. Once Abu Garab was reassigned, all torture stopped, all prisoners given adequate treatment, and lawful interrogation practices used, the quantity of intelligence gathered more than doubled, and the quality of that intelligence skyrocketted.
That, alone, should be proof to even the most hardened skeptic that the practice of using torture to extract information was a disasterous failure - not just from a humanitarian perspective but also a military one. If the information you obtain is worthless, then you might as well not have obtained it. Indeed, it would have been better not to have, because you can't then act on incorrect beliefs.
Now we get to the other part of the report. The refusal by the US to register prisoners with the International Red Cross or any other agency, the refusal of the US to account for any treatment given, the willful attempts to conceal prisoners from International observers, the deaths of prisoners under "interrogation" and subsequent concealment of the evidence, the refusal of any kind of accountability whatsoever...
These are acts more often ascribed to dictators and war criminals. Indeed, many of the crimes former Serbian officials are under trial for in the Hague involve crimes along these lines. Many South American and African dictators have likewise been accused for precisely this kind of attrocity.
So why is it so acceptable for the US to do the very things the world has repeatedly and openly renounced and rejected as abhorrent and unacceptable?
We'll probably never know. The US doesn't recognize the International Court of Justice and has shown no inclination towards prosecuting any current or former members of the intelligence community for flagarant violations of US and International Law.
Indeed, the only ones they have shown any sign of prosecuting are a few petty soldiers who, by all indications, came to believe that abuse was OK because it was openly practiced in front of them, daily. The US Army has openly accepted and acknowledged this to be the case.
From a political standpoint, the use of torture could become a hot potato. We're extremely close to the US elections, and the race is very tight. Less than 1% divides the two candidates, at present. If either candidate mishandles this scandal, it will utterly doom their campaign. It is simply not possible to recover from a blunder in the remaining time. And it wouldn't take much of a blunder for the gap to widen enough to secure victory for whoever was left standing.
Present opinion polls put the candidates at 49% each, with 1% undecided and 1% for Nader. One single vote more to one side than another, in a key State, could decide the election. It is that close.
Bush, with this report, has two choices. Defend the practice (and risk alienating the moderates) or condemn it (and risk alienating those who are further to the right). Likewise, Kerry has those same two choices, with the same consequences.
But the election isn't the only thing happening in the world. Nearly 2/3rds of people in key countries allied to the US are opposed to the current methods and tactics being used. With the release of this report, that number is likely to increase substantially.
9 out of 10 Italians are convinced that the "War on Terror" has backfired badly, putting them at greater risk. Their confidence is unlikely to improve, on hearing claims that the US is abusing prisoners en mass.
This creates the situation where the US is in real danger of becoming completely isolated. If it looses the support of its allies, and looses the trust of key countries it is relying on, it would not be good. Terror groups would likely take that as an open invitation to attack the US, on the grounds that other countries are likely not to give a damn.
History shows that that's not uncommon. Pacts between nations only last as long as those nations feel there's a benefit to it. And it only takes one to quit. Much of the US' security depends heavily on cooperation with other Governments. US bases and US listening posts can only exist in other countries for as long as they are welcome. That is why Turkey was so crucial to the war on Iraq. If the US had been forced out of Turkey, it would have lost much of its ability to attack the north of the country.
Trust is eroding, and the angry statements by the International Red Cross and Human Rights Watch can only accelerate the process. If the eventual winner of the US Presidential elections is to have a country worth being President of, they've got to do something to reverse the process. Fast.