The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, according to news reports, is due to release its report on the CIA’s so-called enhanced interrogation program that went into effect in the months following the attacks of 9/11. The imminent release has spurred the U.S. military to warn its forces worldwide to brace for any violent reactions, and the White House expects U.S. facilities worldwide to face possible violent protests.
Regarding the CIA torture report and the enhanced interrogation program, I do not believe that what the CIA did in its enhanced interrogation program was “torture.” I think it is reckless to throw that word around. Not one of the detainees in U.S. custody suffered any permanent injury or death as a result of American questioning. They were not even made to bleed or experience pain in any real way. Yes, they sometimes experienced despair, fear, discomfort, and mental anguish as a result of their detention and treatment, but is that in any way different from what the average incarcerated American in any one of America’s countless prisons feels?
I do believe, however, that justice should be allowed to run its course when it comes to these detainees. I think they should be tried in some form of tribunal – I leave that to the lawyers – and that justice should be meted out and their cases resolved. The al Qaeda detainees should not remain in indefinite detention without their cases being heard. They should face justice and the proper, legally-mandated retribution, should they be found guilty.
America’s security services had a job to do after 9/11 – finding and fixing those responsible for the terrorist attacks, and preventing further plots from coming to fruition. They accomplished those tasks, and continue to do so with aplomb and in a manner that American citizens should applaud. Those efforts culminated in the CIA-led operation to find and kill Usama Bin Ladin, but they also led to the capture and questioning of countless al Qaeda operatives. Those operatives included the mastermind of 9/11, Kalid Sheik Mohammad, as well as al Qaeda operations chief Abu Faraj al-Libi, and others. Those captures (and in some cases, kills) were absolute victories in the war on al Qaeda, and the information gleaned from the detained operatives was invaluable in many cases.
Was some of the information disinformation? Of course it was. Was some of it self-serving and outright lies? Clearly. However, the best way to sort the truth from the lies with regard to these detainees’ reports was through the reporting of other detainees. The enhanced interrogation and rendition/detention program worked as a system: capture the operative, debrief and collect intelligence, disseminate the intelligence, cross-check and reference the reports, capture or kill another operative, and repeat. The system worked. It might even still be working; I do not know. The point is, it had value and was a successful counter-terrorism operation in every sense of the word.
To claim the program was not successful is a blatant and self-serving lie told by those who either did not have a full picture of it, or who have to account for their prior support of a morally difficult program by opposing it today. It is as if some politicians think their current disdain for the program might successfully mask their past support. Former Director of the National Clandestine Service, Jose Rodriguez, made a similar observation in a December 5th Washington Post op ed, and I agree with him.
Do not misunderstand me: I do believe a vigorous debate over the merits of enhanced interrogation is warranted. I just do not believe that that debate should start from the place of, “it does not work.” That is a fallacy. The debate should start from the premise that the program worked, and should go on to address whether it was worth it, and whether it was in keeping with our principles.
As the debate goes today, it is like trying to argue that the atom bombs dropped on Japan did not end the war with that country. They did. That does not mean, a priori, that they were justified, but the debate must start from the premise that they were effective. So was enhanced interrogation. Let the debate commence from there.