With the publication of the Executive Summary of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program this week, the US Senate Intelligence Committee has acknowledged that the CIA's actions have been a stain on US history. The UN, human rights groups and legal experts are now asking the Obama administration to prosecute US officials responsible for the torture programme.
This is just one aspect of the story. In many ways the world's sole super power has lost its moral compass post 9/11. Rather than behaving like a global lion America, in the years immediately after 9/11, behaved like Godzilla and lashed out against an undefined enemy. The irony is that the enemy is mutating and resurfacing in ever-more complex forms.
In the last 13 years the world has hit reverse in terms of respect for the rule of law, human rights and dignity. For much of the globe, deference for America has been replaced by fear. Some critics have described the US as a rogue superpower.
9/11 was unprecedented in terms of ingenious cruelty and the whole world poured out its sympathy. But the neocon-influenced Administration mistook this as its right to unleash unprecedented invasions of two sovereign countries, Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, all as part of a War on Terror. This has left a dangerous legacy of death, destruction and violence of historic proportions in those two ancient lands, legacies that are now affecting our lives almost everywhere. How long this will continue is anybody's guess.
The vicious circle of terrorism and counter-terrorism, by disparate Muslim nihilists such as al-Qaeda and the ISIL, and by powerful countries with massive military might, has been shaping the early 21st century. This war seems unending and through this the military industrial complex in developed countries has fattened, the torture industry has become more innovative, hawkish think tanks have flourished and narratives on Muslims have spun out of control.
Wars are not cost-free, in terms of human and material resources. The two above wars have cost thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars, not to mention the lives lost by innocent civilians and the chaos that has been left in their wake. The massive drain on the US Treasury might have had an impact on the 2008 collapse of its economy, which then spiralled out across the developed world.
President Obama came to the White House with high expectations and noble promises. But instead he changed the nature of the wars America was fighting and expanded them to such an extent that his presidency will forever be tainted with 'long war'. With its particular focus on targeted assassinations worldwide (including of its own citizens), Obama's administration has truly opened Pandora's Box.
The emergence of ISIL in Iraq and Syria, a clear by-product of the war on terror, is now tearing apart the already-fractured Middle East. With Syria and Iraq becoming the killing fields, the intractable Palestinian crisis around the corner is all but forgotten. With over 200,000 dead, millions displaced and cities turning into ghost towns, the Syrian tragedy has come to a tipping point. A generation of disaffected, impoverished and angry children is growing up in the Middle East with the frightening potential of turning to nihilism and terrorism.
The dark politics played by the region's mainly despotic regimes, with sectarian agendas (as well as that played by some military powers in the West) is getting darker. Russia and China are playing their own games here as well. A bloody proxy war and the brutality of ISIL has made US-led military intervention inevitable, again. But this is a cycle and the Middle East will mostly be living with a new phase of mission creep for generations.
For decades the Middle East has been run by tin-pot dictators. The current breed of leaders, in the garb of secularism or nationalism, appeared during the Franco-British colonial era from the ashes of a long Arab stagnation. Far removed from Islam's egalitarian concept of running public affairs, they resorted to pre-Islamic tribalism. In the absence of an established strong civil society these rulers ran the region like a fiefdom. Some were later replaced by military dictators with the same politics - incompetent, corrupt and repressive - and with similar complicity or downright support from western powers.
Worse than the Soviet-era Communist rulers, these family or military dictators often used the majority religion, Islam, to legitimise their stay in power. At the same time, they promoted themselves as indispensable stooges to their foreign masters. Global powers have been milking these regimes for decades.
Some among Islamic scholars, rather than standing for the people and Islamic values of truth and justice, have sided with these regimes. This has created a dangerous social division in the region, which has exacerbated the rise of hardcore secularists and their nemesis, the Islamists. With a prison-like political environment there is no public space for open debate and discussion.
The result, so far, is the creation of generations of angry and impoverished people with their backs against the wall. With nowhere to go they grabbed the opportunity of the Arab Spring that started in Tunisia at the end of 2010. But this proved too much for the dictators. Some Gulf states poured unlimited money to sabotage these democratic gains, to nip the Arab Spring in the bud. The democratic West, being initially ambivalent, threw its hat in with the old guard for reasons of 'national interest'. This is the game being played in front of our eyes.
If a drastic change in policy towards the Middle East and the wider War on Terror is not made by America and its allies the world is going to be dragged into deeper and deeper crisis. Post-9/11 world has become more unsafe and we are now at a tipping point of further catastrophe. It is time we build bridges, not create walls of hatred.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is former Secretary General of Muslim Council of Britain (2006-10). He is an educationalist, author and commentator on socio-political issues.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own.Suggest a correction