Extremely rare are the times when I applaud the action of the US Congress, but I do so now with the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the abuses and crimes committed by the Central Intelligence Agency in the forever war on terror. The five year investigation has revealed repeated acts of what any normal person would label torture and the deliberate misleading of Congress and even the White House about what the CIA was actually doing. The charges are all based on documentation, and the Committee did not interview spooks because the Justice Department was carrying on its own investigation – and what would be the point anyway?
One should of course suspect the motives of any politician, but Senator Dianne Feinstein’s outrage seems genuine; she is after all a hawkish Democrat who supports the drone program. And who could gainsay Senator John McCain? He is a Republican, an extreme hawk and most important, the only member of Congress who has actually been tortured. One might think his opinions on the subject of torture would carry some serious weight.
But no. The Republican heavyweights are condemning the report as politically motivated and a danger to American lives, and inasmuch as it is difficult to deny the CIA actually did these things, they maintain that none of it was torture and that it was perfectly legal and necessary to gain information to protect America. Former President Bush, during whose administration this crap went down, seems unaware that anything wrong was done, but it appears that he and Colin Powell were not even informed of the program for several years. Of course Dick Cheney, the puppet master of the Bush administration, knew and has dismissed the Senate report as “hooey.” Inasmuch as he is one of the few people in the universe who believes the invasion of Iraq was a good thing, I cannot understand why anyone would solicit his opinion.
As expected, the CIA has denied any wrongdoing, emphasizing that it was all sanctioned by Congress and the White House, including the Attorney General – “We were just following orders.” Apart from the suspicion that Attorneys General always provide cover for their Presidents, it is clear that the President and Congress did not know the extent of the CIA’s actions. And why would anyone assign any credibility to the CIA? Not only are they an intelligence agency, engaged in deception and secrecy, but the CIA also has a long, long history of exceeding its mandate and lying to the government. Feinstein claims the agency spent $40 million to prevent the release of this report; a former spokesman for the CIA (there is a veritable blitzkrieg of former spooks on the news) says the money was used for a “secure facility” to house the documents the Committee wanted. Now, which of these explanations is more believable?
The Republicans, the CIA and the Pentagon are all saying this is the wrong time to release this report because it will endanger American lives around the world (implying that there is a good time and thus that what the report says is true), which is absolute nonsense. American lives are already threatened everywhere. Is there anyone hostile to the US who did not already believe we were torturing people? Do ISIS and their friends need an excuse? They claim this will improve ISIS recruitment. Is there any potential jihadist who would refuse to believe we were doing this without being presented with proof? They claim this is a bad time because we are at war around the planet. When will we not be at war? The Republicans claim the release of the report is politically motivated. Then why was it not released before the last election? Further, once the Republicans take control of the Intelligence Committee next year nothing like this report will ever see the light of day. The Republican Party stakes a claim to being the defender of American values yet constantly demonstrates a willingness to violate those values.
Hardly able to deny what the CIA was actually doing, its defenders simply assert that it was not torture but only “enhanced interrogation” of “enemy combatants,” essentially arguing that if we call it something else, it is something else. If what the report describes is not torture, it is hard to see what is. The Gestapo hung shackled prisoners from the ceiling; was that “enhanced interrogation”? Stalin’s NKVD employed sleep deprivation, assembly line interrogation, cramped cells and beatings; was that “enhanced interrogation”? If this was not torture, then why did the agency go to such lengths to do it outside the US?
The CIA now asserts that whatever you call them, these interrogations produced valuable information in the war against terror (saving American lives again!). Not only does the evidence not support that contention, but the whole history of torture argues otherwise. The traditional non-coercive interrogation methods of the FBI and military have a proven record of results, while torture manifestly does not. I have never been tortured, but it sure seems that the average individual will tell you whatever you want in order to stop the pain. Stalin arrested millions of people, virtually all of them innocent of any crimes, yet the vast majority ended up signing confessions and in some cases performing in the show trials of the 1930s. Torture does not produce information; it produces cooperation.
And suppose the torture did lead to any information. Is that a valid reason for violating our basic values, of becoming like the Nazis or the Soviets or ISIS? Once again, the people who trumpet the loudest about freedom not being free and how many men died for our way of life always seem to be the most willing to surrender those freedoms and values in the interest of security. If we (rightly) celebrate those willing to give their lives in defense of our values, how can we justify violating them on the grounds that it might save lives. If we are so concerned with saving Americans, why do we not negotiate with terrorists, as Europe and even Israel do? If conservatives and others are so damned concerned about American lives, why do they not attend to gun control or drunk driving? The hypocrisy is awe inspiring.
Torture is not only wrong and ineffective, it is illegal, whatever sundry Attorneys General have said. It is cruel and unusual punishment, and the prohibition applies to non-citizens and “enemy combatants,” who are actually POWs in a new kind of war. Doing it in Cuba or Poland makes no difference – agents of the US government are still torturing people. We are also bound, at least in theory, to international law, many of whose conventions we have authored and pledged to uphold, and every one of those instruments prohibits torture under any circumstances. Unfortunately, America’s regard for international law now goes only so far as our national interests, undermining one of our strongest assets, our long tradition of being the good guys, or at least the better guys. Another bit of American exceptionalism down the drain of Realpolitik and stupidity.
Ultimately Congress and the White House are to blame for this disgusting episode, allowing the CIA (and NSA and god knows who else) to do pretty much whatever it pleased, including spying on and lying to them. The Republicans are now actually defending this, and the ever mysterious Obama backed off from any serious investigation and appointed as director of the agency a career CIA official, who is now defending the organization. What goes on in the minds of these people?
Nothing will change, except possibly a few unimportant cosmetic touches (we no longer bug Chancellor Merkel’s private telephone). It has all happened before. We are already being told that no one will be charged with any crimes, which is hardly a surprise; we already know from the blatant lies of James Clapper, the current Director of National Intelligence, that contempt of Congress does not apply to some people. One can only hope that the UN and various European countries will take legal action against these traitors and at least deprive them of free foreign travel, but of course America will go into bully mode to prevent this. What the hell happened to my mother country?