The Senate report on CIA ‘enhanced interrogation’ or torture programmes released last week has thrust the reality of post 9/11 US security and intelligence into the public conscience. Whilst the details of the report have been widely analysed and detailed by news agencies and human rights organisations around the world, the most telling sentence in the entire report seems to have been largely overlooked.
CIA officers regularly called into question whether the CIA’s enhanced interrogations were effective, assessing that the use of the techniques failed to elicit detainee co-operation or produce accurate intelligence.
For decades experts and government officials have told us that torture, aside from being illegal, does not work. The CIA themselves presented a report to Congress in 1989 stating that
Inhumane physical or psychological techniques are counterproductive because they do not produce new intelligence and will probably result in false answers.
The harsh interrogation techniques did nothing to help track down Bin Laden or foil terror plots and capture new unknown terrorists. In many of the cases, the information that was acquired wasn’t anything the authorities didn’t already know, merely serving to corroborate an existing theory, or was actually acquired before the detainees were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. The CIA ended up, in effect, acting on false information because detainees were willing to say anything they believed would end the torture. The report simply tells us that even those in the CIA found this treatment to be unnecessary and counterproductive.
Whilst this has been largely overlooked, it is by no means simply a side point. The entire case in support of these torture methods rests solely on the fact that it saves lives by allowing security services to stop terrorists planning and carrying out further attacks. Whilst some CIA operatives claimed this was the case, documents released in the report prove to the contrary.
Aside from this, the other major issue highlighted in the report was that even the organisations own officers and experts, some of whom were tasked with overseeing the management of the programmes, have for several years been voicing concern that the torture methods being employed were unnecessary and ineffective. However, even their objections and criticisms were overlooked. The report also details how even by the CIA’s standards, there were serious violations and management failures that also went unpunished.
The CIA claims to have reported back details of its programmes all the way up to the White House, yet there is no proof this actually happened. What there is proof of however, is that the agency provided false information to the Oval Office and that President Bush was not even briefed on the specific details of the programme until early 2006. What this says about the state of the Bush administration before and after it found out can fill an entirely different report.
Reverberations of Torture
Republican Senator John McCain, one of the very few Republicans to support the release of the report, gave an impassioned speech to the House in which he highlighted the problems the alleged torture techniques now present.
…I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored.
He went on to say that whilst he understands CIA operatives felt compelled to do what they did, revenge was not the answer. Regardless of motivations, if the US wishes to remain atop its perch as the moral voice of peace, justice and democracy, it mustn’t stoop to the levels of its enemies. “Our enemies act without conscience. We must not.”
The release of the Senate report on CIA torture comes at a crucial time when the US is earnestly trying to advocate democracy and respect for human rights in the self-imploding Middle East. In one sense, it can be seen to be the dawn of a new era, a cleansing out of the old system in favour of the new, but in another, it’s proven to be undeniably damaging for the intelligence community and it remains to be seen whether the US will ever be able to recover from such public condemnation and humiliation.
In the short term, the torture report will force the political establishment to question its resolve on the balance between upholding human rights in the quest to maintain national security. However, in the long term, the international counterterrorism partnerships that the country has for so long sought to foster and lead has been significantly damaged.
Whilst we can only imagine what details have been left out and still classified as confidential if this is the stuff deemed acceptable to publish, the report has at least brought the formerly taboo word ‘torture’ back into the public vernacular and for the first time in the post 9/11 world put the US back on the right track in confronting the issue.