Last week the Senate Intelligence Committee issued its long-awaited report with respect to the CIA’s program of enhanced interrogation of suspected terrorists in the years since 9/11. According to the NY Times, the report, which was prepared and issued solely by Democrats on the Committee, characterized the Program as “more brutal” and “less effective” than the CIA had acknowledged previously either to government officials or the public. The Times article goes on to state that “detainees were deprived of sleep for as long as a week” and “subjected to medically unnecessary [procedures, such as] rectal feeding or rectal hydration.” Furthermore, the article characterized the water boarding of KSM as a “series of near-drownings.” Most damning, the Report concluded that little, if any, worthwhile intelligence was gleaned from these interrogations that could not have been learned from other, more humane sources. Dianne Feinstein, the Committee Chairperson, called the CIA’s Program “a stain on our values and on our history.” There was much more to the report, but I think you get the idea.
The report, if read in a vacuum, is devastating. However, as with most complex issues, there is another side to the story.
1. Proponents of the Report and opponents of the Program could benefit from a little history lesson. Let’s not forget that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 Americans were shocked, scared and angry. The terrorists had just taken down the World Trade Center Twin Towers murdering 3,000 innocent people in the process. In addition, the terrorists had intended to murder individuals who comprise our top layer of government – congressmen, senior Pentagon officials and even the President and Vice President. Were it not for the heroism of those on United Airlines flight 93, they might have very well succeeded. Also, there were rumors of further impending attacks, possibly even the detonation of a nuclear bomb on American soil. Many Americans were afraid to travel to NY or anyplace else, for that matter. Many foreigners were afraid to travel to the US. In response, there was an overwhelming flood of patriotism and nationalism. We were desperate for intelligence. We wanted information; we wanted revenge on the perpetrators and masterminds of 9/11, such as bin Laden and KSM; and we wanted it NOW. That was the context in which enhanced interrogation procedures were conceived and carried out by the CIA.
2. The Program was approved by the President and the Attorney General, and the interrogations were closely supervised. Extreme care was taken to ensure that interrogation techniques did not “cross the line” from interrogation to torture. Because of movies and TV, people envision a “knuckle-dragger” like the fictional Jack Bauer, physically brutalizing and berating detainees without limits or supervision. Nothing could be further from the truth. In point of fact, there were many people in the interrogation room besides the interrogator(s) (the exact number is classified), including attorneys, senior supervisory personnel, and medical personnel and equipment. Whenever a detainee was in medical danger the interrogation was stopped. Every precaution was taken within the guidelines of the Program.
3. Dr. James Mitchell, a former Air Force psychologist, was one of the chief interrogators. During his recent interview by Megyn Kelly on “The Kelly File” he discussed many of these points, in detail. In addition, he stated emphatically that, at first, he had been reluctant to participate in the interrogations. He found it “repulsive at times,” but he did it to save American lives. Furthermore, he stated that the CIA’s Program had been investigated thoroughly by the Attorney General. It was deemed not to be within the definition of “torture.” If it was [torture], I would be in jail.” He and several others maintain that enhanced interrogation of KSM led us to bin Laden’s chauffeur, who, in turn, led us to bin Laden himself.
4. Most telling of all is the fact that the authors of the Report, though they claim to have conducted exhaustive research, did not interview Mr. Mitchell, any of the other participants in the Program, or the former and current Directors of the CIA for their side of things. Also, no Republicans participated in the Report.
A sampling of comments and opinions, which, generally, fall along party lines:
1. President Obama praised the CIA interrogators as “patriots,” but added that the techniques employed “constituted torture in my mind.”
2. Senator John Wyden (D-Oregon): was “disturbed by the CIA’s continuing defense of torture tactics.”
3. Former President George W. Bush has reiterated often that the Program was not torture, and the information gleaned from it was instrumental in capturing not only bin Laden but other senior terrorists as well.
4. Senator John Comyn, (R-Texas) – “Enhanced interrogation techniques …save American lives, and Senate Democrats should thank these brave men and women who worked to protect us – not vilify them.”
5. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jim Risch (R-ID) issued a joint statement that characterizes the release of the Report as “reckless” and expressed the concern that it could produce a backlash that could “endanger the lives of Americans overseas, jeopardize US relations with foreign partners, potentially incite violence, create political problems for our allies, and could be used as a recruitment tool for our enemies.”
In conclusion, I realize that this is an extremely emotional issue and one on which reasonable people may disagree. My personal opinion is that we are and have been in a state of war with terrorism and those who plan, support and execute terrorist acts since even before 9/11. This is not the time to retreat into one’s ivory tower and take the high moral and ethical road. The other side has shown no mercy. It has murdered violently and indiscriminately and will continue to do so. In just the last few months, we have witnessed beheadings and bombings of innocent non-combatants. Who knows what else they have planned for us.
It is important to realize that historically, people have done things during wars that they would not do normally. If you doubt me, re-read the history of wars, any war. As George C. Scott, who played the title role in the movie, “Patton,” stated: “the idea is not to give your life for your country, but to cause the other [guy] to give HIS life for HIS country.” As with any war, the idea is not to be the good guy, but to WIN, whatever it takes. There are no “style points” for good behavior. Second-guessing events and decisions from several years ago is misleading and unfair. The relevant question should be were the actions in question appropriate based on the facts and circumstances that existed at the time?
Finally, regardless of your opinion on this issue ask yourself why the Committee wrote and released the Report without any input from those who conceived and carried out the Program, the politicians, the interrogators and the current and former heads of the CIA. It was akin to holding a trial with only the prosecution presenting evidence. Anyone who would have had a contrary or dissenting view was excluded. Why not try to develop a bipartisan report? Indeed, why release it at all? The obvious conclusion is that it was for political expedience, and, as a result, whatever credibility the Report may have had has been severely damaged.
What is your opinion of the Report and this issue in general? I would welcome your comments.