12/24/14

The so-called Senate Intelligence Committee (SIC) on the CIA Enhanced Interrogation Technique (EIT) — now commonly called “torture” — has published its report.

Let’s be clear on few things to start:

  • It is NOT a “Senate” report. It is the Democrats’ report as NONE of the Republicans on the committee signed off on the report and, indeed, published their own report seriously criticizing the Democrats’ report. This is significant, as the SIC was known as the last bastion of bi-partisanship. Not anymore.
  • The Democrats’ report was compiled over five years and was amazingly completed without questioning any people (NOT ONE person), involved or otherwise. The report was entirely based on documentation. Why not ask questions of people who were involved? The feeble excuse offered by the Chairman of the committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, was that the committee could not interrogate anyone because the people were under DOJ investigation. That is simply a LIE. The facts are that SOME (only few) people involved were subject to DOJ investigation and that the investigation ended over TWO years ago. The moment someone resorts to lying in order to defend a strange and unusual practice it becomes very suspicious as far as I am concerned.
  • The media coverage of the report was extensive, although not even close to being as extensive as, say, the much more important (of course) death of two African American petty criminals at the hands of police while resisting arrest. Let’s get our priorities right here. As always, the coverage was biased and full of ignorance and lazy reporting.

Let’s try and clear some major issues involved which the media failed to recognize:

  • Was it torture or not?
  • Did it produce useful information or not?
  • Why publish it at all and why now?

As to the question of torture there are two elements that need to be considered:

  1. Was it legally torture?
  2. Was it morally torture?

The answer to the first question is a clear and resounding “no.” It was NOT illegal. Despite the repeated assertions by the Obama administration officials, the SIC and others, it was NOT illegal.

It was found to be legal by the Bush Justice department; a conclusion supported by the famous memos, now known as the “Torture Memos (hereafter, “Memos”),” which are available to the public online. If some people are jaundiced towards the Bush DOJ, then Obama’s AG, the clearly partisan and extreme left of center Eric Holder, appointed a special prosecutor to investigate this issue back in 2009. That was HIGH on the agenda.

After an exhaustive two-year-plus investigation that looked not only at the overall issues, but also specifically at the CIA officers who carried it out AND at the two DOJ career lawyers who authored the “Memos,” Holder and his special prosecutor found no cause to charge anyone. A finding that has been repeated in the last few days since the report came out. There was nothing new in that report as far as they were concerned.

If this is not enough, I recommend to anyone who is not convinced to read the definition of the US law regarding torture and the international treaty on which it is based.

The international treaty against torture, on which the US is a signatory, uses the term “severe” physical or mental pain. The question we must ask then, is what qualifies “severe”? Thus the US law goes further to specifically define “severe.”

According to the US law, interrogation is only considered “torture” if it causes prolonged mental harm (i.e. for months and years to follow, or maybe for life). It seems then, based on the fact that all the aforementioned investigations led to the conclusion that no laws were broken, that there were no such “prolonged” effects. Furthermore, the precautions specified in the “Memos” were detailed and prescribed to ensure that the EIT remained legal. For instance, because the law says that threating a person with death is illegal, a medical professional was included in any such EIT session to explain to the detainee what was going to happen to them and ASSURE them that they would NOT be allowed to die. That is the extent to which they went to make sure that the EIT was legal.

So, the issue of whether it was legally torture is settled; it was NOT. Full stop. Let’s stop making it a red herring whenever it suits one of the biased people discussing it.

A more problematic and nuanced issue, of course, is the moral question. Was it torture morally? That is very much in the eye of the beholder, and I would submit that probably most of us would say “yes.” But, to paraphrase what someone said just few days ago: “If you compare it to the action of terrorists that send car bombs intentionally to kill innocent civilians, then what we are doing is much better.” That sentiment was from none-other than Josh Earnest, President Obama’s Press Secretary. To be fair, he said it in response to the issue of drone killings that led to the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians in the last few years — but it is also very relevant to the issue of EIT.

If you had a son and you were given two options:

  1. The enemy will capture him, subject him to 200 accounts of water boarding in a space of 30 days and a slew of other EIT, and then he will live the rest of his life in a prime tropical prison.
  2. He and his children will die in a drone strike.

Which option would you choose? Is there any doubt, or argument? Of course not.

Therefore my conclusion is two-fold:

  1. If EIT is better than drone killings, and drone killings are morally justified due to the type of enemy we are fighting, then EIT is morally justified without doubt.
  2. The civilized world is fighting a difficult war against people who do not recognize borders, be it geographical or behavioral. They do not adhere to the rules of war and they use every single one of our little sensitivities against us. Given these conditions, we need to stretch our sense of what is “right” or “wrong,” or else we will lose the war in the long term and we will all die. It is simple as that.

Did it produce useful information or not?
Of course it did. Without question. The SIC report and the other senators saying otherwise are simply splitting hairs. It is quite possible that there was no useful information that came out among the screams of pain from the EIT or while the detainee comes out for gasping for air after he was water boarded. Maybe, probably, they said nothing at those times other than scream and curse. But it is beyond doubt, supported by EVERY ONE of the senior CIA executives and most of the officers involved, that huge amounts of information came from the EIT detainees AFTER; subsequent to the EIT being enacted upon them and that those EIT, to a large extent, were put into effect after prolonged periods of non-cooperation by the same detainees.

From the little that I can glean from the enormous amounts of public information, the EIT program was NOT designed to produce a “silver bullet” immediate answer to anything. It’s not like in the movies, where you threaten to kill someone and they tell you the secret. It was designed to break their spirit over a long time — to make them malleable and cooperative — and it DID work. Of course, it is logical that they also gave a lot of misleading information too. But the job of the CIA interrogators and analysts is to take everything, cross-reference it, check it against other facts and come to conclusions — conclusions which, many times, include hypothesis and theories and gut feelings and assumptions, but that are based on some elements of facts gleaned from such long term interrogations.

Why publish it at all and why now?
There is only one reason to explain that quandary: POLITICS. Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the SIC, decided that she wanted it published for her posterity and this was her last opportunity to do so. Starting next month, Republicans will control the Senate and they would have buried it. At 81 years old, Senator Feinstein is at the end of her political career, so it was now or never. The damage it has and will cause to national security was not an important element for her when considering her “virtue.”

Listening to her talk about the report and to some of her cohorts on the committee, especially Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, I can conclude that, “Hell hath no fury like an old Senator scorned.” Her old age actions shame her achievements when she was younger and a more sensible person. She turned into a bitter old woman. As to Udall, who lost his senate race after a woman reporter from a left leaning paper reacted to his one campaign issue (the fake “war on women”) by calling him “Senator Uterus” — to HIS FACE — well, what can more can I say? Hell has no fury . . .

It is also relevant to mention just a few more people/bodies here:

  • Senator McCain is the only Republican who has fully supported the publication of the report. I always have mixed feelings about the Senator. On the one hand, he is correct on a number of national security matters. On the other hand, he is wrong on so many other things and, mostly, he is simply stubborn and I do not think he is particularly clever. But one thing I cannot take from him: He is a hero, a real one. He did things while in North Vietnamese captivity that most people would not be able to do. Yours truly included. So while he is wrong on the issue, I give him full respect on the matter of torture. This is a man who suffered real torture. He DOES have prolonged effects from this torture, certainly physically, possibly mentally too. Therefore, while he is wrong on the facts here, he is entitled to be.
  • President Obama, as always, is voting “present.” This is the most amazing President (in a bad way) this country has ever had. How could he try to continually avoid taking a stand on the issue? Even when it is such a terrible issue. He “understands” and is “sympathetic” to the conditions and circumstances leading to the EIT, but he is also against torture and this was torture — never mind that his own DOJ decided otherwise. Therefore, although he understands the damage from publishing the report, he is still in favor of publishing the report. Where is your leadership, for goodness sake? Take a stand, for once! How do you justify your drone killings if you are against EIT?
  • The Media, again as always, are simply contemptuous. They are one-sided and biased. They present the SIC report as the final word in spite of the many problems with it (no Republican support, not a single witness interview and the factual ultimate decision of TWO presidents’ DOJ that this was NOT torture in the legal sense). The media does not discuss any of these problems with the report or any of the inconsistencies in the report (as discussed above). So, what is the media for? Just to brainwash us into agreeing with what they think is right without reporting the actual facts? When the polls show that the majority of Americans support the past use of EIT at the time AND support its use again if the right circumstances arise, the media blames the poll. “It depends how you ask the question,” countered Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC. Really? Where were you and where are you when the polls give an answer that you like? Do you also cast doubt on the polls then? They are all hypocrites and lousy at their jobs.

Ultimately, all the people involved in the EIT did so to protect their country under the full understanding of the law and having taken great care to make sure that it was legal. Their moral judgment was, perhaps, swayed by the recent deaths of thousands of Americans. As related by Vice President Cheney: For him, torture was hearing the recording of a phone call from a father to his daughters — knowing that he is about to die — to say that he loves them.

I agree!