Last week the Senate Intelligence Committee released a 528 page executive summary of the 6,700 page report describing the Central Intelligence Agency's program to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects captured in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, in announcing the report's release, said in part, "… under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured."
The report carefully documents its findings, which fall into four broad categories: so-called enhanced interrogation techniques were not effective; the CIA provided extensive inaccurate information about the operation of the program and its effectiveness to policymakers and the public; the CIA's management of the program was inadequate and deeply flawed; and the program was far more brutal than the CIA represented to policymakers and the American public. In short, the report tells the American public that between 2002 and 2007, CIA officials lied.
The CIA issued a rebuttal to this report, claiming that significant actionable intelligence was obtained, leading to the prevention of at least one terrorist attack on the United States, but also that there were failings in the program. Their rebuttal also denied that the agency intentionally misled the public or policymakers.
It's difficult to reconcile the CIA's rebuttal with the facts contained in the report. For example, information taken from internal memos and emails from CIA employees describe them as breaking down emotionally after witnessing the treatment of Abu Zubaida, an Al Qaeda operative. One memo cited in the report reads in part, "Several on the team were profoundly affected, . . . some to the point of tears and choking up." This contradicts testimony given to the Senate in 2007, when CIA director Michael Hayden was asked if agency personnel had expressed any reservations about the enhanced interrogation program. His answer, as reported by National Public Radio, was " I'm not aware of any. These guys are more experienced. No."
Last Thursday, current CIA director John Brennan responded to the report. He acknowledged that "the agency used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent and rightly should be repudiated by all." He also disputed the report's conclusions that EIT did not produce useful information.
Sen. John McCain, who was tortured while held prisoner in North Vietnam, defended Feinstein's decision to release the report to the public. He said the CIA's actions "stained our national honor." He rejected the CIA's claim that torture was effective, saying, "…victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say…" McCain reminded us what our use of torture says about us: "… the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored. … Our enemies act without conscience. We must not."
However morally reprehensible we find torture, Dick Cheney is untroubled by its use. Cheney, in an interview on Fox News, called the report "full of crap," and said he saw nothing wrong with torture, that "we did exactly what was needed" and that he would "do it all again in a minute." He also said that he had not actually read the report. Opponents of the Obama administration have tried to establish a moral equivalency between the CIA's torture program and drone strikes. There is no such equivalency. Attacking enemy troops in a theater of war will result in casualties, whether planes are flown by Air Force pilots or remote control. We are bound by treaty and our beliefs not to torture prisoners.
The CIA's actions in torturing Afghan and Iraqi prisoners may have obtained some valid intelligence, but at a far greater cost than the information was worth. That said, the report reminds and instructs us what we stand for.
Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org