Picture This: The Full Truth and Nothing But the Truth Over Torture During the War on Terror

12/02/2016 18:07 | Updated 12 February 2016

Last week's release of around 200 photographs showing abused detainees held by the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq over a decade ago marks a chilling - though seemingly momentary - return to the early days of the "war on terror".

The 198 images reluctantly published by the US Department of Defense - released only after a long fight for their publication by the American Civil Liberties Union - take us right back to those dark days of CIA "black sites", Abu Ghraib, US-orchestrated rendition, "enhanced interrogation" techniques and of course the legal limbo of Guantánamo Bay.

The photographs will be familiar to anyone who's ever read a typical Amnesty report on torture over the years: close-ups of wounds on backs, legs and feet. Yet as the ACLU points out, these particular photos are likely to be at the milder end of the US detainee abuse spectrum. Within the archive of 1,900 photos or so still being kept secret, there are said to be images showing the physical and sexual abuse of an Iraqi woman in her 70s, a teenager subjected to a mock execution, and an Iraqi farmer apparently shot dead at a close range while handcuffed. There could well be many other horrors.

So, as with the Senate Intelligence Committee's 2014 report on CIA torture, we're again - even after years of a battle for disclosure - only seeing a fraction of the bigger picture. In the case of the Senate report, what was eventually allowed into the public domain (again after a fraught and much-contested process) was only a 525-page "executive summary" of a 6,700-page report which still remains secret today. And even the much smaller "unclassified" document still had some 7% of its text blacked out.

Yet if we're still a long way from full disclosure on US torture, we've never even begun the journey when it comes to accountability. Investigations, prosecutions, jailings and recompense for the victims: there has been no serious effort from the US authorities over any of this. Though President Obama famously said "we tortured some folks", he and his administration have set their faces against any official investigation. Perpetrators are very consciously and publicly being allowed to get away with it.

Mr Obama's rhetoric over US torture is one of condemning the actions and adjuring us to "leave" them "where they belong - in the past". As if that answers to the seriousness of what took place. Few people would be content with a political arrangement which went no further than the condemning-and-leaving tactic if we were considering the everyday crimes of theft, fraud, assault or rape. I don't see why an official US programme of organised kidnap, illegal imprisonment and serial assault should be any different.

Meanwhile, as with so many things, there's a creeping sense that the UK Government is destined to emulate the US in this area. After David Cameron promised a "judge-led" inquiry into allegations that the UK's security services were complicit in torture in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo, this has been downgraded to an investigation by the Intelligence and Security Committee. This body is tightly controlled by the Prime Minister himself (with veto powers over its membership, the evidence it's allowed to examine, and what it's permitted to publish).

It's recently been reported that a former MI5 officer is intending to tell the ISC that the British intelligence agency knew full well that detainees - including Britons - at Guantánamo were being tortured as early as 2002. Whether this happens remains to be seen but overall it seems highly unlikely that this hamstrung committee will in the end be able to unearth the truth over the UK's role in this truly dark episode. Amnesty and others, meanwhile, are insisting that a judge-led inquiry is still established, as the only likely means of learning how far the UK was dragged into the mire during the war on terror.

With so much time having now elapsed since the horrors of 9/11 and the self-inflicted mess of the Bush administration's response, it can almost seem old hat to still be discussing these matters in 2016. But without truth there can be no justice, and without justice there's a danger of repeating these catastrophes. Just at the weekend a certain Donald Trump gloatingly said if elected president he would bring back interrogation techniques "a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding".