War on Terror

To See How Our Last 'War on Terror' Went Awry, Watch The Report

The CIA and its defenders insisted that torture would help keep America safe. They were wrong.

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"You have to make this work! It's only legal if it works!" yells a CIA functionary overseeing the torture of prisoners in overseas black sites.

She's yelling at the two smarmy psychologists who came to the CIA to design and encourage the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques"—torture—on the men the CIA had secreted away after the September 11 attacks. The psychologists had insisted these measures would result in the CIA learning new actionable intelligence to help keep Americans safe from new terror attacks. It wasn't working.

It seems unlikely that an actual CIA leader would yell something so on-the-nose, but this is The Report, a Hollywood attempt to dramatize not just the CIA torture that took place under President George W. Bush but the concealment of these tactics (from Congress and Bush himself), the fight by the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate what happened, and ultimately the Obama administration's failure to hold anybody to account for some truly terrible behavior.

The name of the movie is actually The Torture Report, but the word "torture" is cleverly redacted to indicate the secrecy level. The torture is not redacted from the movie, though; all of it (including waterboarding and a forced enema) is re-enacted in vivid flashbacks. The protagonist—investigator Daniel Jones, portrayed by Adam Driver—attempts to determine what happened at these CIA sites, why, and what laws might have been broken in the process.

The investigation itself (which was supported at first by almost the entire Senate Intelligence Committee only to see it become a partisan battleground during Obama's presidency) represents only half the movie. The other half is the massive struggle to try to get any of the information into the hands of the public. We see how the CIA attempted to block its release and even engaged in illegal surveillance against the Senate staff, then accused the staffers of hacking into the computer system of America's spy agency.

The movie's available now on Amazon Prime. It's a good time to watch it, given the American drone strike that just took out Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani. As information about the torture became public knowledge, the government's defenders insisted that this unauthorized and brutal behavior helped protect Americans and provided valuable actionable intelligence. But Jones' investigation showed that the torture failed to provide the CIA with any intelligence it didn't already have or was able to access by other means, a conclusion that was also reached by the CIA itself in an internal report (known as the Panetta Report after former CIA Director Leon Panetta). The investigation showed that many of the detainees the CIA tortured shouldn't have been taken in the first place and didn't even have useful information to share.

In hindsight, we can see that none of this helped stabilize the Middle East in any substantial way. We are most certainly not safer as a country as a result of the CIA's torture methods. One lesson of The Report is that people in positions of power have a vested interest in telling us that whatever brutal actions they back will help keep America safe, even if that's not really true.

And to be clear here, this is not a #Resistance movie. While The Report accurately portrays Senate Democrats as leaders who kept the investigation going, it also makes clear that the Obama administration is one of the forces working against them. Ted Levine plays former CIA Director John Brennan as a cocky and obnoxious jerk who seems interested only in protecting the CIA from criticism. Brennan, who tried to get Jones fired and possibly even charged with a crime, is unmistakably presented as a villain; his current critiques of the Trump administration do not shield him from criticism.

The film's handling of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.), by a no-nonsense Annette Bening, is also interesting. The Report does not shy away from Feinstein's authoritarian streak. She declares at one point in the movie that she believes whistleblower Edward Snowden is a traitor, and she later mentions her support for Obama's secret drone warfare (newly relevant after Thursday's assassination). Nobody challenges her views, unfortunately, but the movie also pivots from giving her the big anti-torture speech at the end to showing an actual clip of deceased Sen. John McCain (R–Ariz.) giving a speech on the Senate floor opposing the use of torture by the CIA.

The Report ends on the dour real-world reminder that there's been no real punishment of the people involved in the decision to torture detainees—or even for the CIA staff who illegally snooped on Jones' work. The current director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, oversaw one of the black sites in Thailand where waterboarding occurred. Brennan is now a television news regular as an intelligence analyst and expert. Advisors who push the country in harsh and violent directions rarely pay a price when they're wrong. Keep that in mind as these same voices insist that whatever violence the Trump administration has in mind for Iran will make our country and the Middle East safer.

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  1. The Deep State is the State itself, not (as some friends have insisted) only a few career spies and cronies. I think the Deep State has been too embedded for too long for anyone to get rid of them; the only way they will lose power is if the government itself shrinks in power.

    That is where I see the future. The trend since the printing press has been decentralization of control over information, and more power to the people. Wealth has been decentralizing too,and that’s more important. While the Democratic Socialists and the Republican Nationalists warble over old-fashioned bureaucracies, new inventions and new culture continues to decentralize power. The more the government makes illegal, the more the shadow economy grows.

    I expect that in 50 or 100 years, government will be in even more control of the old-fashioned bureaucracies, but people will get their health care, their guns, their toys, and their luxuries from distributed networks hosting 3D printers over which the government has no control, and that’s the only way the Deep State will ever fade away.

    1. “The trend since the printing press has been decentralization of control over information”

      What the fuck? The state’s capacity to publish, censor and surveil information has never been greater.

      Wealth has not been decentralizing, either. Since the industrial revolution, people and wealth have been leaving the countryside to concentrate in urban areas. This trend is world wide and has never in history lead to such centralization.

  2. “”and ultimately the Obama administration’s failure to hold anybody to account for some truly terrible behavior.””

    Why was he unable to do so? Did he fear the IC as much as Chuck Schumer?

    1. This is easy—the initial reports of water boarding characterized the enhanced interrogation program in the context of false confessions. When Obama released the memos in April 2009 they made clear that water boarding was used in a very limited and responsible manner to get information from high level detainees.

    1. Fuck off, asshole.

  3. A movie? Are you getting your sense of reality from a movie?

    1. When you’re desperate for confirmation, you’ll go wherever you have to.
      No matter how stupid.

  4. Yah, I’m gonna rush out and pay $14 for a made-for-TV movie starring some leftist Hollywood cunt as an even more loathesome leftist Washington cunt.
    What happened to Reason? Where did it go so wrong?

    1. Charles Koch joined up with George Soros and the coverage moved left with him.

      1. You forgot Al Sharpton. We like to blame him for things, too.

  5. The highly partisan document the Dems released was full of lies. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone given all government reports seem to be full of lies. Some of those same people are in favor of banning vaping products abling other idiocy.

    But go ahead and assume a movie, based you a fault document, will somehow price something other than the biases of the authors. I’m sure it’ll fill a ton of people, just as it’s fooled Reason.

    1. In the preview the lawyer states torture tainted the evidence…but I thought the torture didn’t lead to any truthful information?!? Someone made an oopsy. 😉

  6. I opposed the Iraq War but I support water boarding. The politicization of war makes war impossible. So I mostly blame Republicans characterizing people like Trump and me as “traitors” for opposing the Iraq War but Democrats behaved irresponsibly with respect to water boarding which as implemented did not amount to “torture”. Btw, anything can amount to “torture”, so playing Justin Bieber songs over and over can amount to “torture”.

    1. Or watching Housewives of (wherever) or Big Bang Theory on a loop.

      /Lionel Hutz shudder.

  7. Scott, I may watch this on your recommendation. But if I get a whiff of any faux-righteous TDS or Obama dick licking, I’m gonna find out where the lunch room is at your work and gonna spike your milk bottle and then I’m gonna find the brown bag with your name on it in the fridge, pull out the Oscar Meyer bologna and replace it with a piece of rubber.

    Not that you’ll notice the difference BUT STILL.

  8. waterboardingIS torture- torture is always wrong…always…always! IF you ask the infamous question about a nuclear device and getting info about it from a terrorist- then you are going down the slippery slope….. maybe it is okay to find a child rapist? maybe it is okay for those evil #%^@@ – fill in the blank.
    ALWAYS WRONG..ALWAYS

    1. As we implemented water boarding it wasn’t wrong. We didn’t use it to get false confessions we used it to extract information from high level detainees that we could have killed in a drone strike.

  9. Keep that in mind as these same voices insist that whatever violence the Trump administration has in mind for Iran will make our country and the Middle East safer.

    There is zero evidence that Trump either is starting a “new war” or a “new war on terror”. You are suffering from TDS. Cut the crap.

  10. Don’t use this movie for anything. I watched it. Not only was it a boring movie but it painted the main character as the pillar of virtue. The portrayals of the contractors involved with bringing the “enhanced interrogation techniques” into use was just nuts. They had them smirk with superiority and treat everyone else with disdain. It really was over the top.

    If got anything out of this movie it was that our government is in fact filled with bureaucrats and paper pushers out to further their own agendas. Only they can save us from the destruction of our “democracy.”

    If all those taking their respective oaths of office simply abides by their oaths to protect and defend the Constitution we’d be a more stable republic.

    1. Furthermore Obama attempted to have a show trial for KSM and couldn’t pull the charade off…so obviously they had enough evidence to convict him.

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