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 considerthisbyjd.com
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