The "Senate Torture Report"—officially known as The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's "Study ofthe Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program"—is finally out after years of delay.
Over 500 pages long, it covers CIA actions toward prisoners in the war on terror from 2001 through about 2009 and it is, at first blush, a truly devastating document on every possible level. Not only did the CIA systematically and routinely lie to the executive branch, charges the report, it did the same with the legislative branch at essentially every opportunity. From the executive summary:
Much of the information the CIA provided to the media on the operation of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program and the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques was inaccurate and was similar to the inaccurate information provided by the CIA to the Congress, the Department of Justice, and the White House.
Lying to the media is the least of the problems the report lays bare. To make matters even worse (and really, it's hard to know when we've reached bottom with this one), the report notes that the CIA failed to consult either with its own experts or outside ones on the efficacy of torture:
The CIA did not review its past experience with coercive interrogations, or its previous statementto Congress that "inhumane physical or psychological techniques are counterproductive becausethey do notproduce intelligence and will probably result in false answers." The CIA also didnot contact other elements of the U.S. Government with interrogation expertise.
And then there's this. Between 2002 and 2009, says the report,
…the CIA made a series of representations to officials at the White House, the Departmentof Justice, and the Congress, asserting that the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques were uniquely effective and necessary to produce otherwise unavailable intelligence that the U.S. government could not obtain from other sources.
That need was the moral warrant used to coax reluctant legislators and others to go along: Whatever you think of torture, it works and we're in a war for our very existence, don't you understand! A redacted 2003 email in the report spells out the way the CIA talked about its needs:
"Simply put, detainee information has saved countless American lives inside the US and abroad. We believe there is no doubt al-Qa'ida would have succeeded in launching additional attacks in the US and that the information obtained from these detainees through the use of enhanced measures was key to unlocking this information. It is our assessment that if CIA loses the ability to interrogate and use enhanced measures in a responsible way, we will not be able to effectively prosecute this war."
Yet in surveying 119 cases of prisoners held at various places and looking at the "Eight Most Frequently Cited Examples of Plots 'Thwarted' and Terrorists Captures Provided by the CIA as Evidence for the Effectiveness of the CIA's Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," a very different reality emerges: "The Committee found the CIA's representations to be inaccurate and unsupported by CIA records."
Among the "thwarted" plots were Jose Padilla's "dirty bomb" operation, the Karachi plots, and the captures of Iyman Farris and Hambali, among others.
Dick Cheney, who acknowledged he hadn't read the report, has already written it off as "a bunch of hooey," a banal epithet to characterize what reads like something approaching moral monstrosity.
Whether the report sparks violence in the Middle East and beyond—I'm betting that our actual foreign policy over even just the past few years is the likelier culprit—it is a terrible but necessary examination of what the United States has allowed to happen under the name of making the world safe from terrorism.
Most accounts have the Senate Republicans dissenting from the report's conclusions. By all means, bring on the debate over what actually was going on in an agency that has never been particularly respectful of either the Constitution or respect for any limitations placed upon it. We may well learn things that shed new light on some of the report's darkest passages.
But until that happens, it seems as if the Senate report is one more reason to deeply, deeply question the government when it tells you that it is being straight even with itself and asks that your surrender any aspect of your freedom or skepticism in the name of safety.
Read the full report here:
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