Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a 500-page report outlining the CIA’s history of torture during the Bush administration. The committee, chaired by Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, concluded that torture was ineffective in locating Osama Bin Laden and preventing terrorist attacks.
The report received swift condemnation from the usual suspects, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, who blasted the report as being “full of crap.” In addition to claiming that torture was in fact effective in obtaining information and enhancing national security, he also stated that President Bush was privy to details about the program, contradicting the report’s claim that Bush was kept in the dark about secret CIA prisons and torture programs around the world. Whichever is true, it does suggest that one of President Obama’s few bright spots for liberty is on the subject of torture and ensuring it didn’t happen under his watch.
The report’s “revelations” include painfully obvious statements like “’Enhanced interrogation’ includes torture” and the fact that torture doesn’t work well. Nonetheless, this acknowledgment by members of the Senate who focus on intelligence matters that the interrogation methods used to acquire intelligence were both excessive in their application and ineffective in their results is a positive step for acknowledging past transgressions. Although Obama ceased this practice in 2009, it will help ensure it isn’t repeated again by a U.S. government agency in the future.
There are some points that critics get wrong about the report. One is the idea that Democratic Sen. Feinstein released the report hastily before Republicans took over the Senate and could block its release. The truth is that a committee made up of eight Democrats and seven Republicans voted 11-3 in April to declassify and release the report. The committee worked with the executive branch on a redacted version that could be made public. While Republican leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the committee’s Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss criticized the report, it is effectively a non sequitur considering Chambliss is the vice chairman and could have voiced dissent and ensured other Republicans voted against its release earlier on, before the report made headlines.
Many conservatives are defending the CIA and its “enhanced interrogation” program, saying that the loss of 3,000 lives on 9/11 is justification enough, and torture isn’t as bad as the killings that happened on that day, or as bad as the killings the U.S. conducts through drone strikes. While it may be true that these tactics don’t end the life of the person, it doesn’t follow that torture is acceptable as a means of extracting information. America’s leadership role in the world is to set an example for and to construct a rapport with leaders and citizens of other nations. By brutally interrogating those in American custody, it only gives fuel to terrorists to continue recruitment of others to their cause and hinders the ability of American diplomats to achieve various objectives with other nations.
Two days after the report’s release, current CIA director John Brennan defended his agency, saying that intelligence gained from torture produced useful results and assisted in the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. He did not use the term ‘torture’ in his comments, instead using the innocent-sounding “EITs” acronym, short for “enhanced interrogation techniques.” This is no less euphemistic than calling murder an “expedited ascent into Heaven.”
Just as many Americans are demanding justice for Michael Brown and Eric Garner through reform to the police and justice systems, it is imperative that the same is done for all others who are under U.S. custody, even those who are not U.S. citizens or are accused of atrocious crimes. This will ensure that America continues to be a beacon of liberty for other nations to emulate.