Admit to past errors
published : 15 Dec 2014 at 06:00
newspaper section: News
The release of a report last week on the handling of terrorists by the US Central Intelligence Agency has echoed around the world and created waves in several countries, including Thailand. While the outlines of such "enhanced interrogation" have long been known, it was the chilling detail of the report that grabbed attention. That, plus the help provided by other countries.
The report's release was a partisan political act. It was ordered, and published, entirely by some Democratic Party senators who served on the upper house's intelligence oversight committee. Many of their colleagues opposed the release of the report, including all Republican Party senators.
US President Barack Obama was part of a diplomatic effort to convince the senators to withhold the release. He and his attorney-general Eric Holder have promised not to pursue or prosecute any CIA agent or helper involved in the interrogation programme. Mr Obama's intelligence director and CIA chief John Brennan have spoken strongly against both the report and its contents.
The report also raises arguably more questions than it answers. That applies especially to countries like Thailand that cooperated in the US "war on terror", declared following the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The report doesn't actually identify Thailand as the first country to grant permission for a CIA detention site, but it makes it clear through hints and vague language. In what many believe is hypocrisy, it also does not at any time use the word "torture" for the savage interrogations.
But the US political ploy was a metaphorical releasing of the genie from the bottle. The damage to Thailand and others is done. The report cannot be un-released, the contents cannot be further blacked out. The blowback on US allies and friends will not be eased.
Government authorities have decided to deny and to confuse. The official designated last week to speak publicly on the sordid affair was Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana. He is currently the director of the National Intelligence Agency, as well as a minister in the Prime Minister's Office. For his part in talking about the report, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha resorted to the same language used by his predecessors Abhisit Vejjajiva and Yingluck Shinawatra: There are no secret prisons or CIA torture chambers in Thailand. It is known that "Detention Site Green" opened and closed in 2002.
Mr Suwaphan and the government should consider a different approach. They have nothing to lose by providing at least some details, especially since the US senators claimed they released the report in order to inform the public, and thus ensure that the government never repeats these offences.
Thai authorities, who have a credibility gap at the moment, could do the same. The timing could not be better: Overall, the public opposes secret deals with foreign governments; campaigns are under way to promote reconciliation and amnesty; the mood of the moment favours disclosure of past errors in return for moral and legal forgiveness.
To know how US and Thai officials conspired 13 years ago to establish an illegal detention house would help to clear the air. It's scarcely believable that the government knows nothing about the US information. So, knowing that some agencies hosted the CIA's centre for brutality would be a step forward in bridging the credibility gap.
Thai authorities really don't owe anything to the US as it reveals its most important secrets. Rather, they owe it to Thai citizens to come clean, learn the lessons and move forward.