This week, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released its Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program, a harrowing report on the CIA's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" against detainees. According to the report, CIA interrogations of detainees were far more vicious than the CIA described to lawmakers, with physical violence, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, rectal rehydration, and threats of violence against loved ones among the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used on detainees.
The report states the CIA's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" was not an effective strategy for collecting intelligence. To boot, the CIA's arguments for the use of these techniques rested on incorrect claims regarding their effectiveness. Outside attempts to exert oversight over the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program were stonewalled, the report states, with the CIA impeding White House, Congress, and Office of Inspector General oversight. Not surprisingly, CIA personnel were rarely held accountable for inappropriate activities and violations of CIA policies, the document argues.
Global human rights organizations have expressed outrage at the CIA actions described in the report, urging further investigation of torture. According to the Atlantic, Senator John McCain asserted that the torture described therein "compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights."
Americans from across the political spectrum, including conservatives, have expressed disgust at CIA mistreatment of detainees. For example, Rod Dreher argued that the report "shows our government’s capacity for committing barbaric evil" and mused on what the report says about the U.S.
"This is a matter of deep conscience. What kind of country are we? Is this what America is? Is this what we defend? The worst kind of barbarism? In particular I want to say to my fellow Christian conservatives: think hard about this report, and the idolatrous attitude that so many of us have toward America. We are America’s good servants, but God’s first. When our country has done evil, we must not hesitate to condemn it, and work to reform it. What we must not do is fall victim to an instrumentalist mentality that calls evil acts good because they achieved, or are believed to have achieved, desired results."Unfortunately, several right-wing voices refuse to take the report seriously or wrestle with the moral implications of torture. In the days before the report's release, Fox News featured several voices defending "enhanced interrogation techniques" as a means by which the CIA allegedly saved American lives. During the December 8th edition of The O'Reilly Factor, Karl Rove claimed that such harsh techniques kept America safe, blasting those behind the report as "desperate" and eager to "smear" the CIA. (Hat tip to Media Matters.)
"We aren't going to convince the hard left, but we do need to remind the American people, the vast majority of whom are not part of the hard left, that these techniques worked in a dark moment for our country to keep our country safe ... People who want to diminish the CIA, regardless of the impact on our allies, regardless of the security of the United States. They've spent $40 million and six years coming to this moment, and they're desperate before they lose control of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to smear the CIA, and shame on them for doing so."During the December 8th edition of The Five, Eric Bolling applauded the CIA's techniques, insisting that it produced quality intelligence. (Hat tip to Media Matters.)
"I celebrate what the CIA did in the aftermath of 9/11. Three-thousand people lost their lives downtown. We were angry. America was on our heels. We didn't know what to do, and the CIA came forward, and they aggressively interrogated, legally, aggressively interrogated some bad guys, and they got some intel that led to the capture of Osama Bin Laden. Why are we apologizing for it? I'm not really sure."During the December 8th edition of The Sean Hannity Show, Hannity showed little concern over the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture, convinced that it saved Americans. Noticing a pattern? (Hat tip to Media Matters.)
"John Kerry asked [Sen. Diane Feinstein] to delay the release of the committee's report on "CIA torture and rendition" during the Bush administration, so we get this on the same day that Obama is releasing how many people from Gitmo? Five people? Six people? So Bush tortured terrorists and Obama releases them ... I don't give a flying rip because I am certain that American lives were saved ... I don't care that we waterboarded Kalid Sheik Mohammed."We know now that, according to the report, "enhanced interrogation techniques" were not an effective strategy for gathering intelligence. Even before the report's release, their effectiveness in amassing intelligence was debatable, with former intelligence agents admitting doubt about the efficacy of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, etc.
Even after the release of the report, some voices from the right remained unmoved. On the December 9th edition of Fox News' Outnumbered, some commentators were dismissive of the report. Jesse Watters told viewers, "I don't want to know about it; I think people do nasty things in the dark, especially after a terrorist attack." Andrea Tantaros saw no need for transparency at the CIA, defending the CIA's actions as a necessity after 9/11. Americans need not be upset over the torture report, she explained, because such practices have supposedly been stopped. The report's release, in her eyes, was a Democratic distraction. (Hat tip to Media Matters.)
"Sunlight at the CIA? I'm sorry. That's one place I don't need sunlight. I don't think they need to give me a lot of transparency at the CIA. Look, thousands of Americans were killed after 9/11. The Bush administration did what the American public wanted, and that was do whatever it takes to keep us safe. These terror tactics have been stopped because as a country, we decided we are better than this, so we stopped them, which is my point. Then then why are we putting out this memo? ... It's about politics. It's about Democrats being so fundamentally lost as a party, Harris, they have to return to an old playbook, the plays that they ran right when Obama got into office trying to prosecute CIA officials for these terror tactics, and that same playbook that they feel got them the House of Representatives back."I was appalled by these flippant attitudes toward torture, toward waterboarding, physical abuse, and rectal rehydration, which a senior medical advisor to Physicians for Human Rights called "a form of sexual assault masquerading as medical treatment." In their moral apathy, they disregarded brutal treatment of detainees as somehow justified by September 11th, as if two wrongs could make a right.
We're capable of better moral reasoning than this.
Torture is not only ineffective, but immoral, whether the targets of torture are criminals or one of the 26 detainees who did not meet the standard for detention. A state that tortures is a state that has abandoned its founding principles and any moral high ground. When human dignity is diminished in this way, it allows for many other human rights to be violated, with hideous consequences.
It will take many years and intensive reform before the U.S. can remedy this sin. Until then, we must call for intelligence strategies that actually keep Americans safe, instead of barbarism that fails to keep anyone safe. We must demand transparency from our government. We must demand that those who were responsible for torture be held accountable.
As for the right-wing voices who blast same-sex marriage and contraception coverage as immoral, but sneer at a torture report, your moral compass is broken.
For additional commentary, visit the following links.
Ben Irwin: If this is what a Christian nation looks like, then I don’t want to be a Christian
Religion Dispatches: Torture Denial: U.S. Flunks the Religious Acid Test
Mother Jones: Here Are Some of the Worst Conservative Reactions to the CIA Torture Report