The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report this morning detailing the CIA’s detention and interrogation of suspects during the War on Terror, from the beginning until 2009. The report, compiled by staff members working for the Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is over 6,000 pages long and provides a graphic accounting of CIA torture and imprisonment, and goes into detail about how the CIA continued its global operations outside of Congressional and Bush Administration oversight.
The report details how the CIA treated detainees in its custody, suggests that the practice known as “waterboarding” was far more widespread than previously believed, and notes that while the CIA routinely justified its tactics as necessary to save lives and prevent acts of terrorism, the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” it practiced did not provide as much information as they initially claimed.
A scathing report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday found that the Central Intelligence Agency routinely misled the White House and Congress about the information it obtained from the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, and that its methods were more brutal than the C.I.A. acknowledged either to Bush administration officials or to the public.
The long-delayed report, which took five years to produce and is based on more than six million internal agency documents, is a sweeping indictment of the C.I.A.’s operation and oversight of a program carried out by agency officials and contractors in secret prisons around the world in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It also provides a macabre accounting of some of the grisliest techniques that the C.I.A. used to torture and imprison terrorism suspects.
The report is brutal, to say the least, and in its statement about the report, the CIA, while vehemently challenging the content and presentation of the report, acknowledges that there were mistakes made in the torture program’s execution.
There is one problem, though, with the report and its timing, which some think is carefully calculated, either to distract from other administration shortcomings or to serve as a parting shot by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who will be removed from her leadership position on the Senate Intelligence Committe when the new Congress convenes in January: many of the people now decrying the CIA’s methods, including Feinstein and her colleague Nancy Pelosi, once admonished the same agency for not doing enough to control terrorism worldwide. They may not have had all of the information at their disposal – it certainly seems, from the report, that the CIA made concealing at least some of its methods from scrutiny a top priority – but as CIA veteran (and interrogation program head) John Rodriguez notes in the Washington Post (via Hot Air), it’s not as though Congress, the Administration and much of the American public wasn’t pushing them to act, and quickly.
In one ear they hear the public, the media and members of Congress raising alarms about the terrorist threat from the Islamic State: Do something! Do it now! Why didn’t you do something sooner? Politicians from both sides of the aisle are saying that the militant group is an enormous challenge and must be prevented from bringing its brutality to America’s shores. The president assures us that the United States will “degrade and ultimately destroy” these terrorists, while the vice president doubles down and says we will follow the Islamic State to “the gates of hell.”
But shouting in CIA officers’ other ear are people such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) regarding the 500-page summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the agency’s interrogation efforts, which is expected to be released next week. The report’s leaked conclusion, which has been reported on widely, that the interrogation program brought no intelligence value is an egregious falsehood; it’s a dishonest attempt to rewrite history. I’m bemused that the Senate could devote so many resources to studying the interrogation program and yet never once speak to any of the key people involved in it, including the guy who ran it (that would be me).
I’m not defending the CIA’s actions. Torture is abhorrent, and we, as a civilized nation, shouldn’t engage in it. If the report is correct, many of the people involved in the program, and many of the people who had knowledge of it, have a lot to answer for. But in all of this, there’s a lingering question: exactly what did we expect them to do? According to 2002-era Sen. Dianne Feinsten, quoted in the New York Times, we expected them to do absolutely everything possible to eradicate the threat of terror worldwide, quickly, and with limited experience in holding and interrogating foreign soldiers who operated outside of a nation-state.
On May 26, 2002, Feinstein was quoted in the New York Times saying that the attacks of 9/11 were a real awakening and that it would no longer be “business as usual.” The attacks, she said, let us know “that the threat is profound” and “that we have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.”
Part of the value of a report like this is that we can come to terms with how we executed the War on Terror, and whether the results we achieved were worth what we, as a nation, did in order to achieve them. As Jazz notes at Hot Air, that examination of conscience won’t be pretty, but it may be necessary, and given that we are facing a new and different threat in the same part of the world, this may be the perfect time to do it. The War on Terror, generally, seems to have suffered from a lack of objective and direction, and depending on who is leading it, a lack of focus. In 2002, we were still very angry, and a “by any means necessary” approach made sense, even if the logic behind it was, for lack of a better word, tortured. Times have changed, and so has our enemy. We may realize now that the actions we took were not worth the ultimate cost. As a nation, some soul-searching could do us some good.
But the bigger question is not what we will get out of looking back and what we did over the last decades: it’s what will we do now, armed with the knowledge of what has gone before us, but facing a new and more vicious, if more concentrated, enemy. ISIS, the new iteration of Middle Eastern terror, sprung out of a vacuum of power we created. And while it may not be able to organize large scale attacks (that we know), its sheer brutality is on daily display. How will we fight them? Should we? And when it comes down to it, will we deem extreme measures, like Extraordinary Interrogation Techniques, necessary to achieve our goals? Given what we know now, those are all good questions.