torture-on-trial-waterboardA storm of controversy is raging in the USA over the Senate report on how the CIA treated suspected terrorists, post 9-11. Only the executive summary is to be released.

In our opinion, it is entirely correct and proper that the American government release this information. For the following reasons, in summary:

  • It only confirms what is widely known anyway.
  • It sets America apart from those with whom it contests the global stage, by holding itself to a higher standard of ethical behaviour and public disclosure.
  • Anything that goes to ridding the world of torture by Governments is to be applauded. It has no place in a civilised society, no matter what challenges are faced, and in any event the intelligence it yields has been shown again and again to be unreliable. Or to put it another way, if someone is pulling your fingernails out one by one, you’ll tell them anything they want to hear to make them stop.
  • Convictions based on evidence produced by torture must be considered highly unreliable, and therefore it works against justice being done and ties the justice system up in ethical and practical quandaries.
  • Anyone planning to attack the US and its allies is intending to do so anyway, and telling the truth will do nothing to make them more aggressive. They don’t need encouragement.

In reality, issues like this are all about who we want to be. Ultimately, we cannot control everybody else’s behaviour, we can only control our own.

 

This was how they used to treat prisoners in Dachau. Is this how we want our governments to behave>

This was how they used to treat prisoners in Dachau. Is this how we want our governments to behave>

 

I well remember my mother, who was a deeply conservative person and passionate supporter of Margaret Thatcher, surprising me one day by speaking out at the dinner table against detention without trial and torture in Northern Ireland, the province which during my early years was riven with sectarian strife, terrorism, and a trenchant government response. She said:

“You can’t make a country safe by being worse than the other people. The rule of law us what sets us apart from the animals in the jungle. Everyone has a right to a fair trial. Our behaviour needs to stand up as an example against those who abandon the rule of law.”

Naive? Possibly. Magnificent? Definitely.

Tell us what you think in the poll at the end of the story below.

You can read the background to the story in the Bloomberg report as follows:

Current and past U.S. officials, including former President George W. Bush, have mounted a campaign to try to block the release tomorrow of a Senate report detailing harsh interrogation tactics previously used by the CIA on suspected terrorists.

The opposition comes as Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee plan to release an executive summary of the 6,200-page report, which found the CIA used extreme interrogation methods at secret prisons more often than legally authorized and failed to disclose all the activities to lawmakers and other officials.

Despite warnings of retaliation abroad against Americans from those opposed to making the report public, the Obama administration supports its release, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said today.

“The president believes that, on principle, it’s important to release that report, so that people around the world and people here at home understand exactly what transpired,” he said. Earnest said the administration has taken steps to improve security at U.S. facilities around the world.

Releasing the findings will give terrorists fresh ammunition to escalate their violence and put the lives of additional U.S. officials and allies at risk, said Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House intelligence panel.

‘For What?’

“All they’ve got to do is find something they think indicates something and they’ll use it for their propaganda machine,” Rogers said today at a meeting of Bloomberg Government reporters and editors. “Why are we going to risk the lives of some diplomat, for what? We’re going to risk the lives of some intelligence official who had nothing to do with this, for what?”

Secretary of State John Kerry supports releasing the findings, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters today. Kerry discussed the policy implications of the release in a phone call with Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairman of the intelligence panel, and said it was up to her to decide when to do so, Psaki said.

Duke University law professor Charles Dunlap, a retired Air Force major general, disagreed, calling Islamic State by an earlier acronym.

American Risks

“Although there may be some demonstrations and even some violence, I don’t think that it will particularly directly endanger Americans or American allies because those who represent a danger are already doing everything they can to inflict harm,” Dunlap said in a statement. “After all, ISIS is beheading innocent Americans and others – they hardly need more motivation for barbarism.”

Dunlap and several U.S. military and intelligence officials and diplomats said the real risk is, as Dunlap put it, “really to the ability of U.S. intelligence agencies to get the cooperation it needs from other countries, not to mention the debilitating effect on morale of CIA and other intelligence professionals.”

U.S. officials are bracing for international blowback that could fuel riots and retaliation in countries hostile to the U.S. The Defense Department warned U.S. commands overseas on Dec. 5 to take appropriate force protection measures in anticipation of the findings release, and the State Department has directed overseas diplomatic posts to review their security.

Six Years

The final report, which cost $40 million and six years to complete, is the most comprehensive assessment of the CIA’s so-called “black site” detention facilities and “enhanced interrogation techniques” on terrorism suspects following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. President Barack Obama, who said the program amounted to torture, ordered that the practices never be used again when he took office in 2009.

Subjecting detainees to waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and other harsh tactics such as sleep deprivation and stress positions produced little timely, accurate or valuable intelligence in the U.S. war on terrorism, according to U.S. officials who asked to remain anonymous because the findings haven’t been released.

Some Democrats and human rights activists have hailed the report for finally exposing flaws and possible crimes in the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program, which largely operated from 2002 to 2005.

‘Off Base’

The report appears to be “way off-base,” Bush said in an interview yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union” telecast.

“We’re fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf,” Bush said. “These are patriots. And whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base.” Others who are part of the campaign include Bush’s former CIA directors George Tenet and Michael Hayden.

Congressional and administration officials said that current CIA Director John Brennan and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough have battled the Senate committee for months in an effort to redact as much of the report as possible.

Opponents of releasing the report also have created a website, CIASavedLives.com, where they plan to publish declassified documents, opinion pieces and media reports to rebut the Senate Democrats’ report. The site is being curated by William Harlow, Tenet’s former spokesman at the CIA.

Republicans and former Bush administration officials who ran the program condemned the report as a biased attempt to rewrite history. They say the interrogations produced significant intelligence that helped capture terrorists and protect the country.

‘Crucial Information’

“Information from the detainees was absolutely crucial to us understanding al-Qaeda and helping disturb, disrupt, dismantle and, in many cases, destroy al-Qaeda networks,” said Charles Allen, who managed the intelligence community’s collection programs from 1998 to 2005.

“It’s hard for people in 2014 to understand how the world fell in on top of the Central Intelligence Agency” after the 2001 attacks, Allen, now a principal with the global risk management advisory firm The Chertoff Group, said in an interview. “There was no wide-scale abuse of any of the interrogation authorities, and CIA officers simply do not lie to the Congress.”

The CIA waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-described planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 183 times in March 2003, according to a 2005 Justice Department legal memorandum released in April 2009. The agency used waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002 against Abu Zubaydah, who is an alleged al-Qaeda operative.

Hard Choices

Allen, the former CIA official, said “very hard” choices had to be made and the interrogation methods were necessary. He recalled a meeting in the spring of 2002 where then Tenet asked a group of inter-agency officials to raise their hands if they disagreed with the methods used.

A representative from the Federal Bureau of Investigation was the only one to object and walked out of the room, Allen said. That was acceptable to Tenet and the small group because they knew the FBI operated under different authorities, Allen said.

Another FBI agent, Ali Soufan, has argued in recent years that enhanced techniques are both unnecessary and ineffective. Soufan was the first to interrogate Abu Zubaydah.

“There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics,” Soufan wrote in a 2009 column for the New York Times.

‘Gentler Approach’

Allen disagreed. “Would we have gotten all the information through a more patient, more gentler approach over a period of months?” he asked. “You don’t know, and certainly the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence doesn’t know because it’s all hypothetical.”

Some high-ranking military and intelligence veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan disagree, saying their experience is that waterboarding, sleep deprivation, forced nudity and other “enhanced” techniques produce inaccurate, tainted and sometimes false information.

Other critics of the report, inside and outside the U.S. intelligence community, also say it failed to examine how officials in Bush’s White House and Pentagon kept demanding that the CIA extract more information from its captives, and Justice Department officials allowed them to do so by using techniques such as waterboarding that are widely considered torture.

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Comments
  1. underwriiter505 says:

    Frankly, I don’t think we released enough. I was pushing and hoping for Senator M Udall to read the entire report into the Congressional Record. What did we learn really? Dick Cheney lied? We knew that. The CIA lies? we knew that. The torture was more brutal and more widespread than anyone wanted to admit? We knew that. I do have to give credit to Senator McCain for his remarks in favor of the release of the report. Interestingly, his remarks also contained some “We knew that.” http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/12/09/1350555/-John-McCain-Calls-Out-the-Torture-Apologists?detail=email

    Like

  2. terrikurczewski says:

    God bless America! We are too good for the rules! :((

    Like

  3. Pat A says:

    I agree with your conclusions at the top of the article Yolly – there is also an interesting article here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-susan-brooks-thistlethwaite/the-corrupt-logic-of-tort_b_6296512.html . I don’t understand how people can still think they occupy the moral high ground and agree that people should be tortured – ah yes, it is the old denial of humanity to the suspect trick isn’t it, they are suspected therefore condemned. But how can anyone think that information obtained under torture is reliable anyway – everyone would say whatever was necessary just to make the pain stop.

    The Huff Post article has a couple of really good quotations
    “The report is quite damning on a number of points, including the fact that these techniques were developed, operated and assessed by outside contractors, namely two psychologists, of whom “neither psychologist had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have any specialized knowledge of al Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise.”

    “So not only torture, but inept torture at that.”

    and further down
    “”Jane Mayer, in her extensively researched book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals quotes Daniel Coleman, an ex-FBI agent who worked closely with the CIA. Coleman argued in vain for traditional methods of interrogation including gaining the subject’s truth and affording them due process. The latter was especially effective, argued Coleman.

    “”The lawyers show these guys there’s a way out… It’s human nature. People don’t cooperate unless they have some reason to.” But after 9/11 Coleman saw that everything, including legality, had changed and that whatever they did, including extraordinary brutality, was not only legal, it was acceptable. Coleman knew differently. “Brutalization doesn’t work. We know that. Besides, you lose your soul.”

    “Yes, that’s what has happened to us as a nation. Soul murder. ”

    Sadly, due to all our governments’ collusion with the Bush government, many nations (and their innocent citizens) in the West are tainted by this evil. The Right Wingers who have always excused torture of suspects and the brutal treatment of all they regard as less than themselves, will always say that this report should not have been published, but they are wrong. Everyone must face up to their own deeds and misdeeds and must try and put any misdeeds right. Most of the thinking world knew a lot of the information that seems to be in this report, though not the horrendous specifics – but it is time America and all our governments faced up to what they did – if they were seeking to increase terrorism, they (most sadly) could not have been more effective.

    Like

    • Interesting stuff Pat, and thank you. I am forcefully reminded sometimes of all those Grand Guinol baddies in Hollywood movies who think the way to heal humanity of its evil by eliminating it and starting again … and always fail to see how that makes them as wicked as the people they seek to destroy.

      Like

  4. Pat A says:

    Thanks Yolly. I am reminded of the great philosophers – and alas can only remember Nietzche’s quote (annoying since I can see little other than that phrase to like in him*) – that in fighting monsters we must be careful not to become one. (A terrifying thought to those of us with brains and consciences – but not apparently to some people who get led down those dark pathways, constantly telling themselves that they are on the side of right as they do evil).

    * From a lovely book called ‘Rolling in the Aisles’ by Murray Watts – a depiction of graffiti on a wall saying “God is dead – Nietzsche” – this was crossed out and below it was scrawled “Nietzsche is dead – God” !

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  5. What we did was appalling. The problem is that when the stories focus on guys like Khalid Sheik Muhammad, the sense of outrage lessens. That’s why we need to compare these actions with those of the Nazis as oppose to concentrate on the few high profile bad actors we tortured.

    Like

  6. chris B says:

    One big problem is that every spy movie or series, and every ‘maverick cop’ movie or series always has someone threatening or carrying out violence on a captive ‘against protocol’ and it provides the vital information that is needed. It is an idea that is constantly being reinforced, despite being disproved years ago – just ask Amnesty International.

    Like

  7. Pat A says:

    Just had an email from Amnesty International calling for an enquiry into UK’s role in this –

    https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/cia-usa-torture-uk-investigation?from=issues&utm_source=Email&utm_medium=Mass&utm_campaign=Stop%20Torture%20campaign&utm_content=uk-torture-button1

    Please sign & forward if you can.

    Like

  8. david says:

    There are so many aspects to this report. Clearly this report is a very politically partisan in the USA, even allowing for Senator McCain’s contribution. Incidentally the first death from torture was wayback under President Clinton’s administration, a point the report does not mention.

    There is something very wrong when the only person serving a jail term for the use of torture is an ex-CIA officer who went to the press. See: http://motherboard.vice.com/en_uk/blog/torturer-whistleblower-reporter-spy-john-kiriakou

    I don’t think many non-Americans realise how the USA felt after 9/11 and the extent of the fear more attacks would follow, even with WMD. It is not an under statement that is was a second Pearl Harbour, with civilians the primary target.

    Many ask not only why torture was used, fewer ask what is the effect of the Senate report. Bearing in mind much of the detail has been in the public domain for several years.

    There is value in reading two professionals comments. John Schinder, ex-NSA, on his blogsite: http://20committee.com/2014/12/10/cia-torture-an-insiders-view/

    Then Nigel Inkster, ex-SIS (MI6): http://www.iiss.org/en/iiss%20voices/blogsections/iiss-voices-2014-b4d9/december-78da/inkster-torture-c673

    I would draw attention to two passages, one on the why: ‘The entire global history of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency shows that when governments are suddenly confronted by a seemingly existential threat they do not understand, they invariably overreact and resort to illiberal techniques to address the threat. This appears to be part and parcel of the human condition’.

    Secondly the effect: ‘… the publication of the report should be seen as a positive step. Whether its impact will be sufficient to ensure against some future repetition is another matter’.

    Like

    • I think you under-estimate the rest of the world’s understanding of 9-11 and it’s impact on public consciousness. We shared the shock and many countries had victims involved.

      You should also consider that many other countries have endured “spectacular” attacks on their citizens, without resorting to torturing suspects. The Bali Bombing, for example.

      Yes, the report was partisan. It was nevertheless an important milestone.

      I will read your links with interest, thank you.

      Like

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