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.
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.
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.
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.