LegitSlater: We Are Better Than This

In case your TV and smart devices wern’t working Tuesday, I’ll fill you in on the big story — the United States, led by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), set up secret detention facilities and tortured those captured on the battlefield (or what amounted to one) as part of the Global War on Terrorism.  I’m shocked I tell you, shocked.

An exhaustive, five-year Senate investigation of the CIA’s secret interrogations of terrorism suspects renders a strikingly bleak verdict of a program launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, describing levels of brutality, dishonesty and seemingly arbitrary violence that at times brought even agency employees to moments of anguish.

The report by the Senate Intelligence Committee delivers new allegations of cruelty in a program whose severe tactics have been abundantly documented, revealing that agency medical personnel voiced alarm that waterboarding methods had deteriorated to “a series of near drownings” and that agency employees subjected detainees to “rectal rehydration” and other painful procedures that were never approved.

H/T Washington Post

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), released the “bombshell” report today despite much consternation about the ramifications such a report will have on our ability to conduct future intelligence-gathering operations, and more importantly, concerns that the report will trigger retaliation by terrorist organizations against the United States both at home and abroad.

As if they didn’t already know we tortured the terrorists we catch, or something. Granted, these “new revelations” might spike some hatred, but nothing that hasn’t been burning already. You can read all 528 pages of the report here, along with the response from CIA and the minority party (at least for a few more weeks). If you don’t have that kind of time, the WaPo article listed above is a decent summary, along with this video:

I do not applaud Sen. Feinstein and the other Senate Democrats who were a part of conducting this report. She has been around The Hill since 1992. She and the others knew well what was going on. She was as much a part of the problem as any Republican. The truth is, if you were a member of Congress or the Executive Branch regardless of party at any time during the initiation and height of activities surrounding this program, you were a part of the problem. This report seeks to hang the CIA out to dry for actions that we have found appalling in other nations; actions that we have been a part of prosecuting in war crimes trials. It’s clear they took some liberties with the authorizations they were given to conduct this program. But, there is plenty of blood to go around for every ones hands, with lots more leftover in case some are in need of second helpings.

It’s clear after 9/11 that we needed to take action. We have a nation to protect. A big part of that action was unfortunately killing those who needed killing. Those people were in Afghanistan, and so to Afghanistan we went. We have of course stuck around longer than maybe we should have, but the reasons for going remain clear. Iraq may have been another story, but arguments can also be made our actions there tied up those seeking to harm America, and by tying them up in Iraq we seriously diminished their resources and ability to strike us again at home. Those points have been debated over and over again, and will continue to be for decades and perhaps even centuries.

There were 20 key findings released in the public report (apparently the classified version is over 6,000 pages); some of which I agree and other I don’t. The key finding in my opinion is one that has been known for ages — Torture (and yes, enhanced interrogation techniques are just that) simply doesn’t work.

While being subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and afterwards, multiple CIA detainees fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence. Detainees provided fabricated information on critical intelligence issues, including the terrorist threats which the CIA identified as its highest priorities.

At numerous times throughout the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, CIA personnel assessed that the most effective method for acquiring intelligence from detainees, including from detainees the CIA considered to be the most “high-value,” was to confront the detainees with information already acquired by the Intelligence Community. CIA officers regularly called into question whether the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were effective, assessing that the use of the techniques failed to elicit detainee cooperation or produce accurate intelligence.

I say ages because, in digging into this further, I found the US Army’s own manual on Interrogation stated that torture “is a poor (interrogation) technique that yields unreliable results…” going on to say that it can encourage the individual being tortured to say what they think the interrogator wants them to say (reasons for this I am sure is to hopefully make the torture stop). This manual was dated May 8, 1987, and while it appears to have been updated, no where is it apparent that torture produces reliable ends which could even come close to justifying its means. There are other ways to get the intelligence you need without resorting to becoming the enemy you are fighting.

So, torture doesn’t work. Its also a violation of international agreements our nation willingly entered on the treatment of others during conflict; not because we like going along with the crowd, but because such agreements reflect our values as a nation too.

So what is the biggest deal to come from this report? Simply this — we have another opportunity to look ourselves in the mirror as a nation, and reaffirm the we are better than this. And that is because we are, if we want to be.

I lived through 9/11 too just as many of you reading this did. I have not forgotten the anger that day generated; indeed it still wells deep inside me. I too at first was comfortable with the erosion of liberty that came with a false sense of security, until I saw how it was liberty itself that paid the price and not the terrorists. I cheered on the deployments of our sons and daughters as they went in harms way to meet those terrorists head on, and I still give them my undying support even as we struggle to figure out how we will bring them home again without the Middle East destabilizing further. Honestly I think part of the reason the wars have drug out, and we have felt the need to resort to tactics such as this report details, is because we have tied the hands of our sons and daughters behind their backs rather than unleashing the full might of our military on our enemy; with the sole intent of destroying them. That is what a military is there to do, and we have not let them do it. But that’s perhaps another post for another day.

And yes, I had no problem with torturing those who sought to kill us.

But then I realized we can’t escape reality. Torture regardless of motivation is still wrong and illegal. It doesn’t matter if “the other guys do it to us”, as I have heard so many say. As mentioned, doing it doesn’t give us any better intelligence; to the contrary it can give us worse. All it does and has done is drag us down to the level of our enemy. It doesn’t matter if we committed such acts of barbarism less times than they have, there simply isn’t an acceptable quantity.

Nothing in this report is a big overall surprise, as I stated. Torture is wrong, we did it anyways, and we really can’t say we have a lot to show in exchange for such a lowering of our moral principles. But, it does provide us an opportunity at redemption; of a reaffirmation that yes the United States of America is better than this. I sincerely hope we take that opportunity, because yes — we are better than this.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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