Fair and Unbalanced
Littwin on the CIA’s horrible, ineffective, criminal torture and lies
Mark Udall promised that people would be “disgusted,” “appalled” and “shocked” by the CIA torture report that he had pushed so hard to have released.
He could have added “ashamed” and disturbed” and “revolted.”
In any case, Udall got it exactly right when, in maybe his last important act as senator, he said that Americans — being Americans — would find the report “morally repugnant” and help ensure that we never find ourselves here again.
It’s hard to know exactly where to begin in the more than 500 pages summarizing years of brutal treatment and CIA deceit. So we’ll begin with the rectal feeding. I’d understand if you don’t want to read about rectal feeding. Imagine, though, if you were the prisoner whose lunch of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins was “pureed” and rectally infused, which the CIA defended as a well-documented medical procedure. It was once. It was used to treat President James Garfield as he lay dying. Then there was “rectal rehydration,” which the CIA also defended. The Washington Post quoted a Harvard doctor saying he was sure the CIA used it not for medical purposes but to cause “severe pain.”
Do these things bother you?
How about the prisoner who died at the Salt Pit, where he was “short-chained” to a wall so that he had to sit on the bare concrete while nude from the waist down and was found dead the next day, apparently due to hypothermia? Yes, he froze to death. And in a weird footnote, the “interrogator” was later awarded a $2,500 bonus.
Or this: The “interrogator” who threatened to rape the prisoner’s mother?
Or this: The prisoners made to stand on broken feet for days at a time?
Or this: Of the 119 prisoners (the CIA told Congress it never had more than 98), that at least 26 were wrongfully held, including one “mentally challenged” prisoner who was there to put pressure on his parents?
Here’s the thing. Yes, we’re appalled by these and too many other revelations — we already knew, for example, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times — but even worse, far worse, is that, according to the report, none of it worked. And not only did none of it work, the CIA lied to the White House, to Congress and to the rest of us about it.
It’s one argument if torture works, and if it saves lives. It’s quite another if it doesn’t. Yes, even when torture works, it’s still wrong — because it’s torture. But when it doesn’t work? The Senate Intelligence Committee report spent much space showing how the torture often failed to provide usable intelligence.
It didn’t save lives. It didn’t get Osama bin Laden, as some suggested. There was no Zero Dark Thirty moment. That torture didn’t live up to the CIA claims is no surprise because a 1989 report — from, yes, the CIA — said that torture didn’t provide accurate information and that other methods are far more effective.
John McCain, the senator who best understands torture, said, “I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence.” McCain spoke after Dianne Feinstein, a longtime CIA ally, made her case against the organization she has often defended. McCain spoke in support of the report released by Senate Democrats. Long ago, back in 2009, the Senate report began with a 14-1 bipartisan vote by the intelligence committee. Today, McCain was one of the few Republicans to back the report.
In an emotional speech, McCain didn’t fall back on the weak argument that this report would affect national security. It might, just as many similar revelations might have affected national security. But McCain strongly made that the point that the torture — a “stain on our national honor,” he said — presented the real danger to us.
It’s pretty clear that we are better off knowing these things than not knowing them. When Dick Cheney argues that the report’s contents should be kept secret, that should be your tip-off. The argument from the CIA is that much of the report is wrong. But much of the report — read it if you have the time and the stomach — quotes concerned CIA operatives criticizing CIA methods.
As Scott Shane points out in the New York Times, as far back as early 2003, the head of CIA interrogations sent an email to colleagues about the brutality, saying the tortured-filled interrogations were a train wreck waiting to happen and that he wanted to “get the hell off the train before it happens.”
In 2005, a CIA agent in charge of one of the secret prisons said he was concerned that they weren’t using the best officers in the interrogations. “More than a few are basically incompetent,” he wrote, adding, “We see no evidence that thought is being given to deploying an ‘A team.’ The result, quite naturally, is the production of mediocre or, I dare say, useless intelligence.”
No one questions the horror of 9/11 or the need to protect ourselves from more terrorist attacks. It’s understandable if some people were tempted to overreact. But when overreaction leads to torture-linked renditions and to waterboarding and to rectal rehydrations and to a near-naked man chained and frozen to death and to official lies and unofficial lies and a CIA that spies on Congress, we should know what it is we have done, so we know not to do it again.
[Photo: Colorado U.S. Senator Mark Udall.]
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