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Despicable by Any Measure

The Senate report on CIA torture has been released. It will be a hot political topic for some time to come, and the use of torture will likely have its defenders.

That’s a terrible problem, because many fundamental principles of our great nation have been violated through the practices used. The release of this information has indeed shamed us, but only a truly great nation can admit its mistakes and correct them. We will get through this, but more to the point we have to make sure that this never happens again.

George Tenet, CIA Director at the time of the torture, with President GW Bush.

George Tenet, CIA Director at the time of the torture, with President GW Bush.

The litany of offenses is long and still being digested. What it amounts to is that actions that were clearly outlawed in the US were farmed out to other nations where they could be conducted. One of the biggest arguments against reducing our defense spending and relying on our partnerships with other nations is that this somehow reduces our ability to act freely and potentially conflicts with our sovereignty, a concern that apparently does not apply to the dark side of our intelligence.

But hypocrisy seems like a trivial matter when genuine evil is being done in our name. Sen John McCain (R-AZ), himself a victim of torture, made the point more clearly than anyone else could:

These techniques not only failed their purpose — to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the U.S. and our allies — but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.

He knows firsthand that good information does not come from torture because he didn’t give up anything when it was done to him. One of the key findings in this report is that the excuse commonly offered for this torture – that it aided the hunt for Osama bin Laden – was completely false. That information came from other sources obtained without torture.

Waterboarding is only part of the horror.

Waterboarding is only part of the horror.

All of this was done by an agency completely out of control. The report details how the CIA “provided extensive amounts of inaccurate and incomplete information to the White House and top national security staff.” They didn’t report to the President, they didn’t report to Congress. They didn’t report to anyone as they conducted operations on foreign soil apparently on their own. The complete lack of any reporting chain, let alone checks and balances, goes against everything that we know is necessary for keeping government from running amok.

In short, without any reporting chain at all, they could do this to anyone – you and I included.

More than anything else, the report offers no procedure for making sure that this never happens again. Everyone knows that it can’t, and by any of the laws of this nation it should never have occurred in the first place. But it did. So what is supposed to stop this in the future?

The act of shaming our intelligence community may seem extreme, but it is the only thing that the Senate can possibly do. Nothing else was able to reign them in.

In short, the litany of reasons why this should scare the bejaysus out of everyone is long. This occurred with no oversight or even a viable chain of command. It obtained no useful information. It was done in foreign nations where the presence of sensitive US intelligence had the potential to compromise our position at least as much as help it. The American people were routinely lied to about what was being done.

And, lest we forget, the actions taken were so despicable that the reputation of the United States of America has been blackened in the eyes of everyone, around the world, who values freedom and justice.

Edward Snowden was only one man, so how much of what is going on could he tell us?

Edward Snowden was only one man, so how much of what is going on could he tell us?

What did we learn from this report? We learned that at least one part of our Federal government is completely and utterly out of control – it is, in fact, above the law and our Constitution. The logical conclusion is that what little we know about the NSA and their activities should be regarded as part of the same disgusting disregard for decency and law until it proves otherwise.

The release of this report has weakened our standing throughout the world, that is correct. But it is also the first step towards repairing our reputation. It also shows that we have a lot of work to do to regain the precious freedom that we, as a people, can claim as our inheritance. Fixing that and passing it on to the next generation must now be a top priority.

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16 thoughts on “Despicable by Any Measure

  1. It’s not the release of the report that has weakened “our standing throughout the world.” Its the war crimes that everybody has known the US has been systematically committing. Shame, and dishonor beyond the ability of words to describe.

    • Point well taken, but never before have are crimes been so explicitly described. It will shame us, at least if we have any decency at all because it was shameful. Yes, the crimes were the real damage to our nation, though.

  2. The only way to address this is to shut down the CIA (and NSA) entirely. And then fund a grand jury investigation to start prosecuting the criminals who were running these agencies.

    Sadly, so far our politicians have been corrupt and complicit. Eventually one of them is going to have to do it. Otherwise we don’t have democracy or the rule of law any more, and that pretty much destroys the careers of politicians and puts us back into the days of warlords. A warlord would, of course, kill everyone in the CIA without a second thought.

    • I have come to believe that this is correct. The agencies need to be shut down entirely. The attempt to reign in the CIA in the 70s was somewhat successful, but apparently was not permanent. It’s time to go.

  3. As we watch the predictable sequence of DENIAL, DEFENSIVE JUSTIFICATION and ATTACK emerge from the perps, I don’t want to let slip by one of the most horrific aspects of the report, as described in NY Times coverage:
    “With the approval of the CIA’s medical staff, some prisoners were subjected to medically unnecessary ‘rectal feeding’ or ‘rectal hydration’–a technique that the CIA’s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert ‘total control over the detainee.'”
    This note makes the comparison to the Nazi “doctors” unavoidable.

    • Thanks. Those critics who ask why we have to over what they paint as “ancient history” need to realize that there are many things in government right now without any adequate checks and balances that are also pretty alarming. This report shows just how bad things can get, and needs to be known.

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