The torture report

The more Western society reacts to terrorist assault with an answerable illegality, the more it depletes the very spiritual and political resources which it takes itself to be protecting. Which is no doubt part of what terrorism has in mind. In this sense, triumph becomes failure, as military victory upends itself into moral defeat. (Terry Eagleton, Holy Terror)

In its rather colourless list of ’20 key findings’ the BBC chooses to lead with this revelation:

1) The CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining co-operation from detainees.

Although it’s obviously worth pointing out that torture isn’t effective, it’s perhaps not the issue which most stands out from the report.  Here are just a couple of the more striking findings identified here:

4. Colin Powell was not briefed on CIA interrogation methods because he would “blow his stack”.

“At the direction of the White House, the secretaries of state and defense – both principals on the National Security Council – were not briefed on program specifics until September 2003. An internal CIA email from July 2003 noted that “… the WH [White House] is extremely concerned [Secretary] Powell would blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s been going on.” Deputy Secretary of State Armitage complained that he and Secretary Powell were “cut out” of the National Security Council coordination process.” [Page 7]

8. The CIA held an “intellectually challenged man” to use as leverage against his family.

“[A]n “intellectually challenged” man whose CIA detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information, two individuals who were intelligence sources for foreign liaison services and were former CIA sources, and two individuals whom the CIA assessed to be connected to al-Qa’ida based solely on information fabricated by a CIA detainee subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” [Page 12]

The full report can be read here.

Gene adds: When then-President George W. Bush said, “We do not torture,” he was seriously uninformed, misinformed or lying.

As I see it, there are three main ways (with variations) of looking at this report:

1. The report provides aid and comfort to America’s enemies and should never have been released. No matter what the bleeding hearts say, torture (or “enhanced interrogation,” if you prefer) works. Renouncing such techniques signals to terrorists worldwide that American is a weak and helpless nation that will not take whatever measures are necessary to defend itself.

2. The report provides conclusive evidence that America is an irredeemably evil nation that has no right to preach human rights and democratic values to the rest of the world.

3. The report proves that whatever terrible misdeeds an American Presidential administration commits, it is subject to legislative review as part of a process of accountability and correction. That is something rare among the nations of the world, and something to be proud of.

I hope I don’t need to say which way I favor.

Finally I urge everyone (and especially those whose belief in the efficacy of torture is based on watching Jack Bauer on “24”) to watch Senator John McCain’s statement on the report. McCain is one of the few Republicans in Congress to commend the report. He is also, perhaps not coincidentally, the only member of Congress who has been a prisoner of war (in North Vietnam) and who has undergone torture himself.