LONDON — Born out of the horror over the 9/11 attacks, the CIA’s secret program of detention and interrogation was intended to make the United States safer.
But exposure of the program’s extreme brutality Tuesday appeared likely to increase the danger for Americans overseas and further constrain U.S. foreign policymaking.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s devastating portrait of the interrogation program led allies to distance themselves and prompted adversaries to launch cries of hypocrisy. At U.S. embassies, diplomats girded for potentially violent protests, while American troops worldwide stood on high alert.
“It’s obviously very bad for U.S. moral standing in the world,” said Jacob Parakilas, a foreign policy analyst with the London-based think tank Chatham House. “You can expect this to get very, very wide play on Russia Today, [Iran’s] Press TV and other media that are in the hands of American adversaries.”
Even before the report’s official release Tuesday, China’s state-run media was gleefully pointing to the findings as a sign of lost American credibility.
“America is neither a suitable role model nor a qualified judge on human rights issues in other countries,” read an editorial in the state-run Xinhua news service. “Yet, despite this, people rarely hear the U.S. talking about its own problems, preferring to be vocal on the issues it sees in other countries, including China.”
In Egypt, a pro-government television commentator struck a similar theme. “The United States cannot demand human rights reports from other countries since this [document] proves they know nothing about human rights,” Tamer Amin said on a private network.
The release of the U.S. report comes at a time when American standing in the world has already been badly harmed by an array of factors, including revelations about warrantless wiretapping and drone warfare, and extensive coverage of racial unrest at home. While many of the abuses in the CIA’s interrogation program were already well known, the graphic nature of the report’s findings could resonate overseas in a way that other disclosures have not.
Parakilas said many of the details were likely to be particularly uncomfortable for U.S. allies, and could inhibit future cooperation at a moment when Washington and other Western capitals are deeply unnerved by the rise of the Islamic State.
“There will be more restrictions in terms of intelligence sharing and operational secrecy,” he said.
The report could, however, put pressure on U.S. allies to be more transparent about their own involvement in the American programs. A study last year by the Open Society Foundations found that 54 countries cooperated in the so-called rendition program, which involved secretly transporting suspects to countries that routinely practice torture.
Britain was among the most important, providing key intelligence and logistical support. The government has promised a thorough investigation of its own involvement, but it has been repeatedly delayed.
“The UK’s behind the curve in terms of examining” their behavior, said Donald Campbell, spokesman for the London-based human rights advocacy group Reprieve.
British Prime Minister David Cameron was among the first world leaders Tuesday to react to the Senate report, saying “after 9/11 there were things that happened that were wrong and we should be clear about the fact that they were wrong.”
Amid global revulsion at the behavior revealed in the Senate’s report, there was also mild praise for the U.S. government for at least coming clean.
Writing for the center-right German daily paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, commentator Nikolas Buss said publication of the report was the right thing to do. “Only by taking steps like this will the USA, a country that considers itself a more moral world power, be able to regain the trust that the Bush administration recklessly gambled away,” he wrote.
But rights advocates worldwide also called for the U.S. government to go further in not only exposing abuses but also providing accountability.
In a statement from Geneva, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson, called for prosecution of Bush administration officials who ordered detainees to be tortured.
“As a matter of international law, the U.S. is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice,” Emmerson said.
One former prisoner, meanwhile, said even an apology would be welcome.
“Lives of victims and their families, including mine, have been turned upside down,” said Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee and current outreach director for the prisoner advocacy organization CAGE. “Yet there has been no apology, no sense of contrition by the perpetrators or prosecutions of those responsible for what has taken place.”
Erin Cunningham in Cairo, Karla Adam in London, Stephanie Kirchner in Berlin, Gu Jinglu in Beijing and Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.