How Jihadists Are Spinning the CIA Torture Report

The Senate study is proof of a global war against Islam, say extremists and their supporters.

Reuters/The Atlantic

One argument lodged by those opposed to releasing Tuesday's horrifying Senate report on the CIA's interrogation methods is that its findings would inflame anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world and incite violence against American targets.

That narrative, as Daniel Drezner detailed in The Washington Post, was embraced by the State Department, some Republican lawmakers, and a number of former officials in the intelligence community. "There is no shortage of U.S. foreign policy actions and inactions in the region to inflame enemies," Drezner concluded. "The Senate report is small potatoes compared to that."

On Tuesday, he was echoed by Senator John McCain, who, in a speech from the Senate floor, added that "the entire world already knows that we waterboarded prisoners. It knows we subjected prisoners to various other types of degrading treatment. It knows we used black sites, secret prisons. Those practices haven’t been a secret for a decade."

One day after the release of the report, massive riots and violent attacks on American installations abroad have yet to materialize. However, the less immediate fear that the Senate report could provide recruiters from jihadist groups, including the Islamic State, with additional propaganda material is being realized.

On Wednesday, the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors Islamic extremist activity online, collected a series of tweets from apparent jihadist supporters and sympathizers who sought to frame the torture report as proof that Americans are waging a global war against Islam.

SITE also noted jihadist calls for retributive attacks against specific targets.

There is hypocrisy inherent in supporters of ISIS—a group that beheads civilians, persecutes religious minorities, and enslaves women—calling out the CIA for barbarism. But the twisting of the Senate study into the frame of a war against Islam squares with the organization's broader efforts to rally unconvinced Muslims to their cause. Even if the reasoning doesn't seem sound, as the radicalization expert Majid Nawwaz told The Guardian, the details of the report do add to a list of grievances.

"These are not the sole contribution to radicalization but they are nevertheless important as a factor, especially on the propaganda side," Nawwaz explained. "It doesn’t matter that ISIS are far worse because part of the Islamist argument is that they don’t claim to believe in human rights. They say 'You guys in the West are hypocrites.'"