The Senate committee investigating the CIA’s torture program released its findings today, and to say the report is a bombshell is, I think, not an overstatement. It is a damning critique of the CIA’s operations and management of a program that is clearly abhorrent to the values and ideals of this country — not to mention a violation under international law of treaties to which the U.S. is a prominent signatory. In the climate of fear and hysteria that existed in the aftermath of 9/11 it’s easy, however, to understand how this happened, but that doesn’t excuse the vile and brutal nature of the atrocities committed in the name of the American people. The details of the torture techniques employed by CIA operatives in so-called “black sites” are horrifying and disgusting, an affront to human dignity. John McCain — in a speech in the Senate following the release of the report — called the torture a “stain” on our country.
People involved will claim in their defense that they were only following orders, and that they were told both by their handlers and immediate supervisors — even lawyers within the CIA and the Department of Justice — that it was legal. For a government lawyer to say that something is legal ( particularly in the context that we’re talking about ) does not make it so legally, morally or constitutionally. And remember this is a defense that was tested in the War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg following World War II by former Nazis charged with war crimes, and it didn’t work. The same standard would ( and probably should ) apply here.
Liberals will be screaming to see the perpetrators (CIA officials at the time and former Bush administration officials ) publicly condemned — and perhaps even prosecuted. Conservatives on the right will label the whole thing just a partisan witch-hunt and act to dismiss it out of hand so they can go back tomorrow to talking about repealing Obama Care. Neither response, I don’t think, is correct or responsible. Certainly there’s plenty of blame to go around. Former CIA officials should not be allowed to shirk this off by blaming their bosses. Bush administration officials had a responsibility to follow up on a program that they authorized and supposedly were superintending. The people in the Congress who were charged with oversight in the matter can’t deny responsibility simply by claiming they were mislead. And the American people too have to bear their fair share of the blame because after 9/11 we all acquiesced in some degree to the notion that America was under attack and we had to do whatever was necessary to find and punish those responsible.
John McCain called CIA torture a “stain” on our country.
The good news here ( if any can be found ) is that we are a country that still has the courage and moral fortitude to face up to its mistakes. In no place else ( certainly not the MIddle East where we’re likely to take the most heat for this ) and in no other country would a report like this ever see the light of day. That’s one of the still remaining glories of our democracy. We’re not afraid to publicly air our dirty laundry; and, if need be — wash it. This doesn’t mean that we can brush this all off, put the report in a drawer and forget what happened. This will go down as a sad chapter in our country’s history. And our foreign partners and allies aren’t likely to let us soon forget the matter.
The challenge going forward is to get the report out into all the news channels, and have a full vetting of the issue so the American people can better know how and why we went so terribly astray in what began as an effort just to protect ourselves. Hopefully this might cause us to take a serious and hard look at Drone Program currently in operation. Killing people from the air with unmanned “signature strikes” — people we haven’t ( and maybe can’t ) positively identify as enemy combatants, people who haven’t been arrested and formally charged with any crime — does not square very well with our principles and rules of justice.
The practice of using torture as an instrument of national policy sounds tough, and that appeals to a particular type of individual. Proponents will say that morals and ethics are for philosophers and churchmen: that national leaders though have to deal with the harsh realities on the ground — terrorist threats from a host of deadly, committed adversaries — and the everyday exigencies of national security where any hesitation or weakness betrays a cowardly lack of resolve only increasing the threat to the country’s safety and security.
Sadly, this may be true. Polls show however that most Americans, on principle, oppose the use of torture. The whole point of the Senate committee’s report was that it doesn’t work and doesn’t produce reliable intelligence. The message then is clear that we should not — as a God fearing and principled people — allow fear (no matter how real and threatening) to chase us into a violation of our own moral standards. We really need to show the world (particularly the Islamic world) that we’re better than that. I would like to think that we can. You can’t, after all, use the same inhumane tactics as your enemy and then turn around and try to claim the moral high ground. That’s not going to work in the court of world opinion.
The Money Trader