Let’s stand back and examine what we’ve done

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How can any of us determine if “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs)—the euphemism given to waterboarding, rectal hydration, sleep deprivation and other practices, applied to detainees—produced meaningful information?  The rebuttals exchanged by politicians consist of generalizations that fall along political lines and tell us nothing.

Investigating the issue is a daunting task, and the most meaningful information is not available. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, which has been published by The Washington Post, consists of a 528 page executive summary, a 136 page reply from the CIA, a 167 minority report, and 27 pages of individual statements from committee members. The full report is still classified and is 6700 pages long.

Even CIA Director John Brennan is unsure about the efficiency of EITs. While he believes the “detention and interrogation program produced useful intelligence that helped the United States thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and saved lives,” he cannot say the same about EITs. As reported by CBS News on December 11, 2014, he stated, “The cause-and-effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable.”  If Brennan doesn’t know, there seems little value in debating the issue.

Other aspects of EITs, however, warrant discussion. One is whether it was appropriate to publish the report. Thomas L. Friedman’s view is that releasing the report was the right idea because we’re still Americans and a beacon for the rest of the world. What other country has the courage to disclose that it conducted torture in secrecy in “black sites” (Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Afghanistan and Thailand)? Yes, there are risks with releasing the report, but terrorists will find reason in practically anything American does to justify their brutality.

Our own reactions as individuals require some introspection. I’ve heard comments to the effect that what we did was not as bad as what the detainees may have done in their own countries. Does this mean our own morals and ethics can be adjusted on a relative scale?  Others have justified torture on grounds that ISIS and other terrorists kill at random. Is the inference here that torture is appropriate as retribution?  These reactions reflect how everyday Americans—we’re the good guys in the world—can approve brutality when feeling threatened.

The government’s ability to rationalize what occurred is bothersome. Waterboarding has been referred to as simulated drowning. The only difference between waterboarding a person and actually drowning him is that waterboarding should stop just short of drowning. It’s a terrifying experience. Let’s be clear. Go too far in the process, and someone dies.

We are told that EITs were “lawful,” a decision made by former Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General John Yoo. Responsible for determining what Congress meant when it authorized the CIA to employ harsh measures, Yoo concluded that waterboarding was lawful because it is conducted without a specific intent to inflict long term physical or emotional injury. Maybe we shouldn’t second-guess the efforts of a man who was doing his best in the chaos that followed 9/11  to interpret Congress’ mandate. Then again, perhaps only a Washington lawyer could conclude that waterboarding isn’t torture. Regardless, it’s appropriate review why legal reasoning supplanted ethics.

Lastly, our interrogation and detainment of terrorists has created ethical problems for those involved. One involves a Navy nurse at Guantanamo who refused to participate in the forced feeding of detainees. When he saw how detainees were forcibly extracted from their cells and strapped to a chair and fed with a tube that is inserted through the nose into the stomach, he objected on ethical grounds. The Navy responded by moving to discharge the nurse, who has served 18 years (10 years as a corpsman aboard submarines before he was commissioned).

I am mindful of the real fear that gripped America after 9/11. The attacks were horrible, and we didn’t know if subsequent attacks were being planned. Truly, the defense of the nation was at stake. The president and Congress took immediate action. Those who implemented the plan were doing what they believed was necessary to protect us. In some ways, the threat was worse than what we experienced after Pearl Harbor because we didn’t know when or where the next attack would be, and there was no time to sit back and ponder.

But now there is. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cheered the release, his view likely having been shaped by six years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison camp. Last week, he stated on the Senate floor that the CIA’s practices “actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.”  Here are some other excerpts:

“The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow.  …

“I have long believed some of these practices amounted to torture, as a reasonable person would define it, especially, but not only the practice of waterboarding, which is a mock execution and an exquisite form of torture. Its use was shameful and unnecessary  …

“I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. … 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, ….

. . .

“I dispute wholeheartedly that it was right for them to use these methods, which this report makes clear were neither in the best interests of justice nor our security nor the ideals we have sacrificed so much blood and treasure to defend.”

If we fail to revisit what we have done and try to learn from it, where are we as a nation?


 Jack D’Aurora writes for


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  1. Jim Meaney  December 15, 2014

    Jack – good post, insightful as always … I read an article in the Atlantic recently that reports torture is an unreliable means of extracting “solid” intelligence. The better method: gain the person’s trust and treat them cooperatively.

  2. Tony Gugliemotto  December 15, 2014

    I don’t always see eye to eye with John McCain’s opinions. However, his first hand knowledge of the subject makes a compelling case that EIT’s are and ineffective and nonproductive form of interrogation. As for Dick Cheney’s hard line position; he should submit to a little waterboarding and a bit of rectal hydration and see if he continues to staunchly believe that EID’s are not torture. These practices are below our dignity as Americans.

    • Jack D'Aurora  December 15, 2014

      When you had a direct hand in the process, it’s probably impossible to change your view at this point. Very few people could admit to having made a mistake of this proportion.

  3. Jack D'Aurora  December 15, 2014

    I heard a statistic today on the CBS news. Something like 68 percent of Americans think waterboarding is torture, but 49 percent think it’s justified when it comes to gaining important information. I’m curious. On what basis can anyone make that statement?

    • Matt Schaeffer  December 16, 2014

      Jack – I think that one might reasonably conclude that torture (however one defines it) is justified in the “Jack-Bauer-ticking-timebomb” scenario. You have a few hours to locate a hidden nuclear device in Manhattan. Do you use the rack and try to obtain the necessary information or do you let 8 million people die?

    • Ron Plymale  December 17, 2014

      Jack: As usual, insightful inquiries. Sen. McCain’s comments about the ineffectiveness of EIT’s appear to provide the best reason to discontinue, The arguments put forth about the ethics of such practices, to me, fall on deaf ears. We hear whining about the ethics of these “inhumane” practices but never question the ethical issues surrounding the slaughter and maiming of our and other military personnel. We accept without question the “collateral damage” of military strikes. My mind continues, after 25 years to retain the image of fleeing Iraqi soldiers, defenseless against the weapons of American air power, being strafed and slaughtered by Navy and Air Force fighter pilots. It’s the larger ethical issue of unnecessary warfare that needs to be addressed.

      • Jack D'Aurora  December 17, 2014

        Placing limits on warfare, which is what I think you’re suggesting, is an even more difficult subject to tackle. And, yes, I remember those images from the first Iraqi War. Wasn’t that road to Iraq referred to as the “highway of death?”

  4. Charles Vitelli  December 15, 2014

    I see nothing wrong with the interrogation procedures that are used for military terrorists waterboarding is part of the training for our recon marines and our navy seals we were put through this at recon training bcause they would beable to see how much torture we could stand if we were military prisoners.

  5. robin Lorms  December 16, 2014


    About a year ago I read a book by Jane Mayer titled: “The Dark Side” which is a very well documented account of U.S. interrogation techniques. It shows how our leadership can take advantage of “White House Counsel” for their own purposes. Bush was Cheney’s tool in ordering questionable interrogation techniques and used White House counsel to justify their decisions. I think the current administration is equally adept at the same game.


    Robin Lorms Coordinator of Men’s Ministry Kindway/Embark

    • Jack D'Aurora  December 17, 2014

      I would think its easy to manipulate people who are far removed from the sites where things are happening.

  6. Tom Large  December 17, 2014

    Jack, I agree with your assessment . Thanks, Tom

  7. Jack D'Aurora  December 17, 2014

    Thanks for commenting, Tom. I’m wondering if vets are generally more sensitive to the issue? Jack


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