Torture

Let Us Be Skeptical of the CIA's Support for Limits on Interrogations

Remember the role they played in Zero Dark Thirty, used to publicly justify waterboarding

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"Zero Dark Thirty"
"Zero Dark Thirty," Sony

Tonight NBC News will be airing an interview with CIA Director John Brennan where he will declare that his agency will refuse to engage in any further waterboarding, even if ordered by the next president himself or herself.

This is not a new declaration, and it's clearly and obviously in response to Donald Trump promising to bring back waterboarding and "a hell of a lot worse" to try to get information from suspected terrorists.

You'll have to excuse me for raising a cynical eyebrow at the CIA's sense of propriety and for gently suggesting that there's greater concern that perhaps an unpredictable, emotion-driven president like Trump might simply demand that they do bad things without, say, setting up the appropriate legal framework to declare that these bad things aren't actually bad and are totally legal and legitimate and help catch terrorists.

I say this as somebody who has actually read the Senate Intelligence Committee's torture report when it was released in 2014. I noted at the time that while there were some lurid descriptions of abuses, the reason the report was so long (the part that was released was just a summary, and just that section was nearly 500 pages long) was that so much of the argument was over who was responsible for creating the rules, how the oversight worked (and failed), and whether the "enhanced interrogation" actually accomplished anything. At the time, I noted, "Strip out the torture and terrorism and you've got any other troubled government program."

Brennan's original response to the report was to acknowledge some problems with the interrogation program's oversight and operations but insisted at the time that the CIA's interrogation techniques actually got them useful information, a justification that has been used by any number of mainstream, Trump-disliking conservatives for supporting waterboarding and other forms of torture in interrogation. (And then later on the CIA quietly walked back even some of their own defenses when nobody was looking)

My larger point is not that we shouldn't be happy about Brennan's declaration (though we should resist assuming that he'll still be in place under a new president). Rather, it is extremely important to remember that the torture that actually happened was not implemented rashly or impetuously, like we might assume would happen under a Trump regime. Rather, many, many people working under a "mainstream" Republican president helped make it happen, and the leadership under a "mainstream" Democratic president may have ordered it to stop, but nevertheless defended its usefulness as an ass-covering move. Don't forget the CIA's involvement in Zero Dark Thirty, which suggested these interrogation techniques were needed to help track down Osama bin Laden in a movie put out for public consumption. As such, we should treat skeptically any public claims that the CIA would "refuse" to follow orders. They could just be complaining that Trump would not put the correct legal framework into place to protect them from the consequences.

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15 responses to “Let Us Be Skeptical of the CIA's Support for Limits on Interrogations

  1. Brennan won’t let CIA agents engage in torture because that will take the job away from a hard-working foreign interrogators contracted by the US.

    1. Winner in the first comment.

  2. Sounds like an awesomew plan to me dude. Wow.

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  3. RE: ? Let Us Be Skeptical of the CIA’s Support for Limits on Interrogations
    Remember the role they played in Zero Dark Thirty, used to publicly justify waterboarding

    Oh please!
    What’s with all this whining about using torture on suspected terrorists?
    Don’t you know if this is allowed, anyone can be tortured by the state and local police later on.
    I don’t know about the rest of you, but that’s something I really look forward to.
    Yippee!

  4. “…many people working under a “mainstream” Republican president helped make it happen, and the leadership under a “mainstream” Democratic president may have ordered it to stop,”

    Outsourcing your torture is not the same thing as ordering torture stopped. Not the same at all.

    CIA personnel will be very hesitant to engage in torture again no matter the circumstances considering how close many of them came to be ing prosecuted for acts they were assured were legal under Bush.

  5. Without reading the actual article, I suspect they want a legal safe harbor dressed up as “limits” but actually constituting authorization to use coercion under certain circumstances.

  6. I say this as somebody who has actually read the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report when it was released in 2014.

    Humble-brag!

    an unpredictable, emotion-driven president like Trump might simply demand that they do bad things without, say, setting up the appropriate legal framework to declare that these bad things aren’t actually bad and are totally legal and legitimate and help catch terrorists.

    Hey, the courts say it is legal, it is legal.

    1. an unpredictable, emotion-driven president like Trump

      Yeah, an unpredictable emotion-driven President is totally unprecedented, and Trump is the only one in the current field who has exhibited these traits.

  7. The lesson of the senate investigations into the use of torture is that whatever one politician insists are ‘necessary tools’ in the War on Terror, another will insist were the War Crimes of his/her predecessor.

    What this means is that they will go back to doing everything the old-fashioned way = which is to get someone else’s intelligence agency to do the torture, so we can retain plausible deniability.

  8. Waterboarding is torture. It is atrocious that we are still fucking arguing over this. At least Trump acknowledges that it’s torture (and doesn’t care); Cruz has the gall to claim it’s not torture.

    I’m not sure how you can argue a procedure that is supposed to trick the mind into thinking the body is drowning (i.e., dying) is anything but torture. Perhaps Cruz should subject himself to it; I’m sure a few minutes on the board will make him say even worse things about his wife than the basest things to come from a Trump fan.

    1. There are legal ramifications to saying that it’s torture. We have laws that forbid our citizens from torturing, even in times of war. Trump does not give a fuck, but Cruz has probably been briefed on how waterboarding is an “essential tool in the War on Terror” or some such. He won’t call it torture because he wants the backing of the defense and intelligence establishments.

    2. Probably because torture has an arbitrary definition. Saying x level of discomfort is torture but not y has no real basis. Locking someone up is torture, threatening to keep them locked up is torture, maybe any threats are toture. Or playing loud music, or just bad music, taking away tv and phones, or maybe a room that’s too cold.

      You could pick something less arbitrary like causing bodily harm but then water boarding isn’t torture.

      1. Most thoughtful comment of the day, Hammer.

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