Five years after the CIA’s reprehensible torture of detainees in the war on terror officially ended, a Senate committee has finally released its review of the controversial program. It’s a sobering look at a dark episode in the nation’s history.
The enhanced interrogation techniques 119 detainees were subjected to in “black site” facilities secreted around the world were more brutal than previously disclosed. They included slamming detainees into walls, beatings, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, force-feeding via rectal rehydration, nudity, death threats, ice-water baths and long periods of isolation in total darkness. CIA officers threatened to kill and sexually abuse detainees’ relatives.
It was immoral and it didn’t work.
After its five-year review, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that torture was not an effective means of gathering intelligence, and that the CIA actively impeded congressional and administration oversight by misleading officials about the regrettable program.
CIA Director John Brennan, former Vice President Dick Cheney and others have challenged those findings, insisting the agency extracted actionable intelligence and misled no one. That smells of self-serving, revisionist history. What they can’t dispute is the immorality of torture that arguably violated both domestic and international law.
This accounting needed to be made public. Torturing people compromised this nation’s most basic values. It must never happen again. So it’s important to remember the context in which President George W. Bush abandoned the nation’s principles of human rights and due process. The nation was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Thousands of people were dead. Lower Manhattan was smoldering. The fear of additional terrorist attacks was palpable. The CIA and other intelligence agencies were being vilified for failing to connect the dots and warn the nation ahead of time. No one wanted to be caught unprepared again, so conditions were ripe for the CIA’s intelligence gathering abuses.
That’s why this unflinching report is so important. If the nation is ever confronted with such tragedy again, some people will clamor for a return to torture. The committee’s report should serve as a caution against repeating the same mistakes in the heat of the next battle.
There is a risk that airing details of CIA torture and degradation could inflame anti-American passions in troubled regions of the world and set up allies that aided in the program for retribution. But enemies of the United States are already intent on doing their worst. There seems no shortage of terrorists ready to kill and die. A report detailing how this nation tortured people years ago is unlikely to stoke those passions any hotter.
But coming clean publicly will demonstrate to our enemies how an honorable nation owns up to and corrects its mistakes. Unfortunately, it’s a lesson few are likely to take to heart. But it’s a start toward reclaiming the moral high ground the United States forfeited when it descended into torture.