Spooks Lying? What Next . . .
After five years of investigation, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is about to release a 6,300 page report that concludes that the CIA misled government officials and the public about its War on Terror interrogation program by downplaying its methods and overstating the value of prisoners and the intelligence gathered from them.
In some cases, the CIA credited “enhanced interrogation” methods for eliciting intelligence that detainees had provided willingly long before they were tortured.
Several officials who have read the document said some of its most troubling sections deal not with detainee abuse but with discrepancies between the statements of senior CIA officials in Washington and the details revealed in the written communications of lower-level employees directly involved.
Officials said millions of records make clear that the CIA’s ability to obtain the most valuable intelligence against al-Qaeda — including tips that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 — had little, if anything, to do with “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
As with most Capitol Hill projects, these days, this one is hyper-partisan in that majority Democrats called for and carried out the investigation and Republicans boycotted it. Nevertheless, Republicans now have quite a lot to say about it and have promised to deliver their own partisan report refuting the Democrat’s findings.
It’s not exactly as if anyone is denying that torture—or, rather, BushCo’s Orwellian “enhanced interrogation”—was employed. The masterminds of the whole debacle are happy to crow about their exploits from their immune perches.
President Obama is clearly ready to forgive and forget - “Sure, we tortured some folks” in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 [and for quite a few years after that] but we were so SCARED! it’s understandable, right? And maybe a few of our folks stationed at Abu Ghraib got a little over-enthusiastic about their jobs but—Hey! Patriots! they’re hard to rein in.
Liz Cheney’s head exploded all over Monica Crowley on the set of Hannity:
You know Monica, this president is an utter disgrace. He’s got a situation where, as your last two reports showed, you’ve got crises erupting around the world. And he is expending more time, more energy, more passion, more aggressive activity in targeting and going after patriots, heroes. CIA officers and others who kept is (sic) safe after 9/11. He’s lying about what they did, he’s slandering them, he went to Cairo and did it in 2009.
Today he did it from the podium of the Oval Office. It’s a disgrace. It’s despicable.
A somewhat more measured response came from Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), the ranking Republican on the committee, who appeared on Face the Nation yesterday:
There’s a theory on the part of Senate Democrats, who are the only ones that carried out this investigation ... that no significant information was obtained as a result of the use of those enhanced interrogation techniques. That is absolutely wrong.
Information gleaned from these interrogations was in fact used to interrupt and disrupt terrorist plots, including some information that took down [Osama] bin Laden.
Chambliss also mentioned that Republicans intend to release a rebuttal to the study:
This study is an ideologically motivated, distorted recounting of events. I encourage everyone to read the minority views and decide for themselves. “These views are not an independent report—nor are they a defense of the CIA—rather, they provide the minority’s viewpoint on the flawed committee study.
So. The GOP’s response is that the five-year study, that they refused to take part in, is flawed and distorted. And they know that . . . how? I guess we’ll find out when they release their “minority viewpoint on the flawed committee study.”
More interesting to me, though, is how the defense of the CIA’s interrogation program is framed. It’s based on the assumption that, if valuable information is obtained through torture, then torture is justified. And, of course, it’s not—under any circumstances.
The UN Convention Against Torture, enthusiastically ratified by Ronald Reagan, is pretty unequivocal about that:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
As a rule, I try not to think too much about anything having to do with Liz Cheney. But Saxby Chambliss is one of the guys running this government and, whereas, I don’t expect to find much in his politics to like, I do expect him to honor his oath of office and to uphold and defend the Constitution.
Torture is unconditionally unconstitutional and all of us—right, left and center—know it. It’s not something that one pulls out of the old Political Expediency bag-o-tricks. And publicly endorsing, or justifying, unconstitutional behavior is simply unacceptable in elected officials.
About three years ago, Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow interviewed a man using the pseudonym Matthew Alexander. Alexander was a professional military interrogator who had conducted 1,300 interrogations over the last decade and is arguably an expert in prisoner interrogations.
Here are a few of Matthew Alexander’s thoughts on the matter:
My argument is pretty simple, Amy. I don’t torture because it doesn’t work. I don’t torture, because it’s immoral, and it’s against the law, and it’s inconsistent with my oath of office, in which I swore to defend the Constitution of the United States. And it’s also inconsistent with American principles.
. . . You know, if torture did work and we could say it worked 100 percent of the time, I still wouldn’t use it. The U.S. Army Infantry, when it goes out into battle and it faces resistance, it doesn’t come back and ask for the permission to use chemical weapons. I mean, chemical weapons are extremely effective — we could say almost 100 percent effective. And yet, we don’t use them.
Furthermore, Alexander feels that those who say that “enhanced interrogation” methods are necessary are insulting him and his colleagues:
. . . lack of faith in interrogators, that by some default, American interrogators aren’t good enough, and so we need these special tools to be able to break the law, to be able to do something that’s extremely immoral and forfeit the high ground, as one of my friends likes to say, so that we can do our jobs. And that’s an insult to us.
Professional interrogators take that as a slap in the face. Any good interrogator who’s skilled in his profession understands the culture of the people he’s interrogating, respects that culture, uses it to his advantage by respecting it, knows that they don’t need torture to accomplish their mission. And this has been repeated time and time again. We don’t give exceptions to other career fields to break the law simply because their job is difficult. And interrogators don’t need those exceptions, either.
Another, even better argument against torture:
When I was in Iraq, I oversaw the interrogations of foreign fighters. And those foreign fighters, the majority of them, said, time and time again, the reason they had come to Iraq to fight was because of the torture and abuse of detainees at both Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. And this is not my opinion. The Department of Defense tracked these statistics. And they were briefed, every interrogator who arrived there, that torture and abuse was al-Qaeda’s number one recruiting tool.
And remember, these foreign fighters that came to Iraq, they made up 90 percent of the suicide bombers. They killed hundreds, if not thousands, of American soldiers. And so, this policy of torture and abuse did not make America safer. What it did was it caused the deaths of hundreds or thousands of American soldiers who are now buried at Arlington National Cemetery. So, this policy has been counterproductive in so many ways.
You bet it has, Matthew, and, as Andrew Sullivan put it:
This was a carefully orchestrated criminal conspiracy at the heart of the government by people who knew full well they were breaking the law. It cannot be legally or morally excused by any contingency. It cannot be treated as if all we require is an apology they will never provide.
And, certainly, that hasn’t stopped a Fraternal Order of Enhanced Interrogators from forming:
It is not as if the entire country has come to the conclusion that these war crimes must never happen again. The GOP ran a pro-torture candidate in 2012; they may well run a pro-torture candidate in 2016.
The moral of the story: if you really want to do any damn thing you dream up? get elected POTUS. The executive branch dispenses absolution liberally to other members of the club.
Welcome to the New Normal of American Exceptionalism.