Torturous report mostly about political posturing

Kelly Sloan
Kelly Sloan

Democrats vented their anger over losing their grip on the U.S. Senate.

A report issued by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee concerning CIA terrorist interrogation program serves no discernable purpose beyond political posturing and good theater in the wake of a major electoral defeat.

There’s a process in place for reconciling the existential need for secrecy in certain government functions with the democratic requirement for public oversight. Programs and operations that fall under that murky category are to be divulged to select members of the House and Senate to facilitate the required congressional supervision. This arrangement is predicated upon the understanding America’s secrets must be kept secret. This doesn’t translate into an expectation that Congress countenance illegal activities, but the members of Congress to whom the nation’s most sensitive information is disclosed are expected to exercise discretion.

Was that trust abused in this latest partisan revelation? It’s certain members of the congressional intelligence committees knew early on about the program. Porter Goss, one-time chairman on the House Intelligence Committee under Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said, “We understood what the CIA was doing.” Goss said the committee “gave the CIA our bipartisan support” and funding to carry out its activities. Even U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the architect of the report, raised not a finger in objection when briefed on the details years ago, saying in the days following the 9-11 attacks, “We have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.”

Perhaps cognizant of this uncomfortable fact, the Democrats’ report offers something of an excuse for the program, suggesting the federal government (read Bush Administration) was caught up in an atmosphere of fear and panic in the aftermath of 9-11, resulting in morally regrettable decisions. Conveniently, the Democrats direct this imputation at the Bush White House more or less exclusively, without actually accounting for their own culpability — if that’s the word for ensuring the physical safety of the nation and her citizens.

The more serious charge is the interrogation techniques didn’t work. After all, some leeway is more likely to be granted to an action that might be somewhat morally opaque, but which nevertheless achieved a grander objective. Assigning failure removes any equivocation.

But on what basis do they make this claim? We know a few things. We know, for instance, the CIA gleaned some actionable intelligence from detainees. We know the suite of “enhanced” methods were available and in some cased used on these detainees. And I think it fair and reasonable to make the assumption that a truthful response was not elicited by presenting the relevant questions in a conversational manner. To a person, the professional intelligence community — whose most relevant input was inexplicably not sought by the preparers of the report on their activities — all say the techniques, whatever one may think of them, delivered. What omniscient qualities do Dianne Feinstein and the soon-to-be-unemployed Sen. Mark Udall possess?

A lot depends on the amount of legerdemain involved. Clearly, what’s called torture in this sense hardly registers on the hierarchy of human cruelty. Does carefully regulated slapping, tossing against fake walls designed specifically to give, playing loud music or even waterboarding in the manner applied by American interrogators really compare with the ripping out of fingernails, dislocation of limbs, electrical shocks to particularly sensitive parts of the anatomy, the beatings, burnings, lashes and other horrors typically associated with the term? Some have called solitary confinement, imprisonment in general and the psychological tricks employed by police during questioning as “torture.” How much latitude in the definition is appropriate?

Predictably, the American methods have been denounced by real abusers of human rights — such as China, Russia and Iran. This is like Kermit Gosnell denouncing someone for spanking their 6-year-old and putting him the corner for an hour.

Absent in the report is much in the way of feasible alternatives. Surely no one is suggesting the information retained in the minds of terrorist leaders we capture ought not to be extracted? Are they?

Also missing is the important recognition these techniques, brutal or not, are the exception, permitted only in limited and defined instances and subject to prescribed limitations.

Contrary to some Democrats’ insinuations, the very fact that such relatively mild and limited interrogation activities have spurred national soul-searching is testament to America’s inherent goodness. When has this sort of national discussion taken place in Cuba, China, Russia, Iran or North Korea? Or indeed any non-western country?