Pre-Emptive Lessons of the Torture Report: It Doesn't Work, Is Bad for Morale, and Shouldn't Be Repeated. Until It Needs to Be.


UPDATED: The report is out and online here.

The long-delayed "torture report" is expected to be released today. It details interrogation methods in use a decade ago by the U.S. and other allies and is widely expected to cause a spike in anti-American sentiment, if not an increase in violence against Americans, throughout the Middle East and elsewhere.

Without the benefit of actually reading the report (not a small detail), experts are already outlining three big takeaways, including:

1. Actions from a decade ago will become the focus rather than ongoing policy. The report, rather than ongoing policy screwups and bad decisions, will be used to justify ongoing policy screwups and bad decisions. The Obama administration is already talking about how the release of the report may likely spark violent protests:

"There are some indications that the release of the report could lead to a greater risk that is posed to U.S. facilities and individuals all around the world," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday. "So the administration has taken the prudent steps to ensure that the proper security precautions are in place at U.S. facilities around the globe."

That makes sense and is a welcome change from the admin's unwillingness to commemorate anniversaries of the 9/11 attacks with heightened security in Libya and elsewhere. 

2. This will not resolve the debate over whether torture "works." The "widely leaked" conclusion of the report, which apparently finds that torture produced no useful information, will be hotly contested. It already is:

"The report's leaked conclusion, which has been reported on widely, that the interrogation program brought no intelligence value is an egregious falsehood; it's a dishonest attempt to rewrite history," Rodriguez wrote in an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Friday. "I'm bemused that the Senate could devote so many resources to studying the interrogation program and yet never once speak to any of the key people involved in it, including the guy who ran it (that would be me)."

The problem for the CIA (and the government in general) is that its reliability is shot to hell, not simply by legendary intelligence failures over the years but the willingness of its past and present leaders to lie when convenient. Also not helping: The agency's willingness to spy on the Senate, including members of the commitee investigating it.

3. This "should never happen again." Yesterday in the Wash Post, Tufts political scientist Daniel Drezner noted the widespread agreement among people and groups that rarely agree on anything as a sign the report is important:

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that if Dianne Feinstein, Lindsey Graham, and the director of Human Rights Watch all think the report is necessary to prevent the United States from committing the same egregious mistakes in the future, then that countermands the magical thinking needed to accept the worst-case scenarios regarding its publication.

It's a small step forward that our country's leaders now have enough perspective to say that the U.S. should never, ever torture again (whether we're simply outsourcing the dirty work like so many other production processes is another matter). Expect that iron-willed resolve to last right up until the next big crisis when the always phony "ticking time bomb scenario" comes back into play.

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