The Torture Report: Reflections by Terry Kay Rockefeller
Reflections by Terry Kay Rockefeller
On September 10th, 2001, I was a proud citizen of a country based on the rule of law and adherence to fundamental human rights – although that pride was tempered by a healthy skepticism because I knew those principles had too often been compromised. Then came the news of Abu Ghraib and the Black Sites, where my government tortured prisoners in blatant disregard of the United Nations Convention against Torture.
As a 9/11 family member, I no doubt watched “The Report” with distinctively focused eyes and attuned ears. Most people who see the film will likely be unaware that the Military Commissions at Guantanamo have tried since May of 2012 to move beyond pre-trial hearings and begin a trial of the five men who stand accused of carrying out the 9/11 attacks. But at every turn, judicial progress has been stymied because all five defendants were tortured. That is why those scenes of “The Report” when characters come to a realization that “whoever planned and carried out the torture program never thought about a trial for the crimes of 9/11,” particularly resonated for me.
I remember that the first time the word “torture” was spoken in the Guantanamo courtroom, the security system shut down the audio for spectators. If you have watched the pre-trial hearings, as I have, in person at Guantanamo or on closed circuit TV provided for 9/11 victims and family members, “torture” is too spare a word to capture the reality. The U.S. engaged in waterboarding, slapping, wall-slamming, and sleep deprivation. Prisoners experienced rectal hydration and rectal feeding that amounted to anal rape. They were exposed to cold temperatures, confined inside coffin-sized boxes, and hung from chains in diapers without use of a toilet for long periods of time.
Now, more than seven years after the five 9/11 accused were arraigned, we have heard countless motions and counter motions during the Military Commissions about how much of the classified Senate Torture Report the defense can have access to, and whether the FBI agents who questioned the defendants after the CIA tortured them were truly independent of the CIA. This last issue is crucial to the government’s case, because if the FBI “clean teams” worked in tandem with CIA agents at any time, the confessions the FBI obtained may be thrown out. All those who planned and carried out the torture program were indeed not thinking: not about a trial for the crimes of 9/11, not about U.S. rule of law, not about ultimate justice.
In the end, I am left with questions—and by now my skepticism has far outweighed the pride I once felt. Was any “actionable intelligence” obtained through torture that could not have been obtained otherwise? Many intelligence and military experts tell us “No.” And what has been the cost? How many new terrorists signed up with al Qaeda and the other extremist groups that formed in its wake after learning about U.S. torture and Guantanamo? How many additional lives were lost in the attacks that multiplied as the cycles of violence and revenge spun on? Most importantly for me, can we as a nation confront our own crimes? Who will be held accountable? And how?
I lost a dearly loved sister on 9/11. It is a dreadful, additional anguish to have my pride in my country shredded.
Terry Kay Rockefeller
Sister of Laura Rockefeller
North Tower, WTC 9/11/2001