If you’re at all knowledgeable of the CIA’s actions since the 9-11 attacks, and if you read the “torture report” released Tuesday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, you’ll have to conclude that it is as much a work of fiction as the Rolling Stone article condemning fraternity life at the University of Virginia for condoning a culture of rape.
The SSCI report was written with Jonathan Gruber’s philosophy in mind, that Americans are so ill-informed, stupid, and gullible that they’ll buy any well-crafted narrative.
Let’s cut to the chase: no one can defend those rogue CIA interrogators who caused two deaths of detainees or who did things such as force-feed detainees anally or stuff a man into a small box for ten days. But the vast majority who didn’t — especially those who conducted interrogations under the “enhanced interrogation techniques” program — deserve to be defended against the charges Feinstein’s report levies against them.
Her report had three objectives.
First, to prevent the United States from using coercive interrogation methods on terrorist prisoners, by equating all of those methods with torture regardless of their legality and acceptability under international standards.
Second, to convince us that coercive interrogation failed to obtain intelligence useful in capturing or killing other terrorists or thwarting terrorist attacks.
Third, to prevent us from holding terrorist prisoners indefinitely — sometimes in secret — without charging them with crimes. Those three are all intended to support the fourth goal, which is to support Obama’s policies of closing the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba terrorist detention facility on the basis that it is both unnecessary and a bane to international relations, particularly with the Islamic world.
To do that, Feinstein’s Democratic staff never interviewed any CIA officers or interrogators to find out what they did. All the Democratic staff did was to select the facts that would support Feinstein’s conclusions from the millions of documents made available to them.
Feinstein states her conclusion in her introduction to the report. She writes of the pervasive fear that held the nation in its grip after the 9-11 attacks and states that the fear caused the CIA to have “decided on a program of secret indefinite detention and the use of brutal interrogation techniques in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations and our values.”
Her thesis is that America was so cowardly after the 9-11 attacks that we willingly did things we knew to be illegal, brutal, and beyond the pale. You must believe that everything that was done under the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation methods” program was torture. And you must believe that we gained no intelligence information of any value through the EIT program.
All of those things are utterly false. Again, there were crimes committed that should be viewed as torture. But that’s not what the report says.
Let’s begin with the first of her charges, which is true. We did decide on a program of secret indefinite detention. Under the Geneva Conventions, when a prisoner of war is captured, the capturing nation has an obligation to notify the other belligerent nation of the capture, but it can — under international law — hold the captured soldier indefinitely, until the war is concluded. In this case, the war will never end until the threat of Islamic terrorism against the United States and its citizens is eradicated or at least until the terrorist networks — al-Qaeda and all the others — have been defeated. Indefinite detention is the law, not the exception.
Who were we supposed to notify? Al-Qaeda and their ilk are illegal enemy combatants under the Geneva Conventions and have no “right” to notification, so secret indefinite detention is clearly within our prerogatives under the Conventions. Feinstein wants terrorists — illegal enemy combatants — to have greater rights than legitimate POWs under the Geneva Conventions.
Feinstein says that her “personal conclusion” is that the legal advice the CIA received — clearing it to perform the enhanced interrogation techniques — is wrong and that the EITs amounted to torture. But she never says what her basis is for the conclusion.
The EITs included practices ranging from a slap in the face to sleep deprivation and waterboarding. In an August 2002, the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel gave a secret legal opinion to the CIA. In it, DoJ gave clearance to the CIA for the EITs.
In that opinion, DoJ found that only the most extreme cases of coercive interrogation amounted to torture. Two examples suffice.
First, DoJ cites the 1978 case of Ireland v. The United Kingdom, in which the European Court of Human Rights found that depriving prisoners of food, drink, and sleep, subjecting prisoners to excessive noise, keeping a hood on a prisoner’s head and even bracing a prisoner against a wall spread-eagled so that he is standing on his toes and all his weight falls on his fingers were not torture.
Second, DoJ observes that waterboarding, the worst of the EITs, didn’t amount to torture because to do so, it would have to result in lasting mental harm, a standard specifically included at the time in U.S. law. Citing the fact that thousands of U.S. pilots and special operators had been subjected to waterboarding in “SERE” training — survival, escape, resistance and evasion — without lasting mental harm, the DoJ found it wasn’t torture.
Again, what is the legal basis in U.S. law or treaty, for Feinstein’s condemnation of all EITs as torture?
Waterboarding was not done after 2003. And when the Justice Department started backing off its legal advice in 2007, all of the EITs were ceased. (Which makes Obama’s action ending all the EITs by executive order in 2009, entirely superfluous.)
If there were any doubt about the legality of the EITs, you need only to observe the fact that the Justice Department investigated the program with a view toward prosecuting the interrogators for precisely the things that Feinstein accuses them of and concluded that no prosecution should be pursued.
The other main contention in the SSCI report is that the EITs never resulted in the CIA gaining valuable intelligence that led, in whole or in part, to capturing or killing active terrorists or thwarting their plots against us.
That point was addressed over and over in CIA Director John Brennan’s Orwellian press conference last week. Brennan kept insisting that it was “unknowable” if the EITs led to valuable intelligence, but he did admit that they resulted in some information that led to the successful raid by Navy SEALs in which Osama bin Laden was killed.
If that weren’t enough — and it obviously is — we have the statements by former CIA directors to support the value of the EITs. In his memoir, George Tenet wrote that the CIA obtained more valuable intelligence than the military, the NSA, the FBI, and all other efforts collectively.
Leon Panetta — CIA director before he became secretary of defense — said, “At bottom, we know we got important, even critical, intelligence from individuals” from the EITs. John McLaughlin, deputy CIA director from 2000 to 2004 and acting director in 2004 — wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post in which he gave several examples of critical intelligence — including the information that led to the bin Laden raid — gained through the EITs. And Gen. Michael Hayden, who served as NSA director before he became CIA director, wrote conclusively that the EIT program led to the capture of senior al-Qaeda operatives, disrupted terrorist plots, and saved American and allied lives.
All of that should be enough to satisfy anyone, but it won’t be. At this stage, the left has won a critical part of the argument, that the EITs were torture per se. They want us all to shed tears over the rough treatment served on the people who murdered thousands of innocent civilians on 9-11 and their brethren who still, today, would gladly sever your head or mine. Pardon me if I don’t shed a tear for them.
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