The Importance of the Senate’s Torture Report

December 10, 2014 Updated: April 23, 2016

Yesterday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the 500-plus page executive summary of the 6,000 page, six year report on the Bush administration’s covert detention and interrogation practices.  While the report has many crying foul as partisan politics given it comes from the outgoing Democratic majority (despite the initial study being authorized 14-1 by the committee in 2009) with others praising the release as a reminder of “never again,” the most important aspect of the report’s release is that the events it described happened.  Despite the fact that most of the information disclosed by the report was already known by many, the report publicly acknowledges from a government body, using CIA documents and testimony, that harsh conditions of detention took place.  Regardless of the conclusions of the report, namely that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” did not provide actionable intelligence – a point that has been hotly debated by those on both sides who agree and disagree – it is clear these events happened.

Why is this important?  In the words of Judge Andrew Napolitano – who appeared on Fox News the night before the report was released, “I’m sorry what’s in it [the report], but in a democracy the American public has the right to know what has been done in their name…The American public is also entitled to know that the laws that govern the rest of us also govern the government.”  Former Bush administration communications official Nicolle Wallace stated yesterday morning prior to the report’s release, regarding the prevention of additional “imminent” attacks following 9/11, “we did whatever we had to do.  And I pray to God that ’till the end of time we do whatever we have to do to find out what’s happening.”  With the release of the report and the official acknowledgement of “enhanced interrogation techniques” the debate must now focus on whether Americans and members of the government place the safety and security of Americans above all else – at all costs.

This includes programs such as President Obama’s drone policy, which has targeted and killed Americans and killed hundreds of civilians who are referred to as collateral damage.  This debate also includes the spying on communications overseas and domestically by the NSA – the bulk collection of metadata, spying on Americans’ communications, monitoring communications of foreign nationals that inadvertently becomes entangled with Americans’, etc.  If the United States must leave no stone unturned and at all costs prevent future attacks, these programs along with others must continue as well.

Some critics of the summary of the so-called torture report, among other things, say that it does not conclude other forms of interrogation are or were more effective than the “enhanced interrogation” methods and that the report only supports “the case they [the Democratic majority of the committee] want to make” as former acting director of the CIA John McLaughlin stated yesterday on MSNBC.  While the report is obviously not perfect, what can be gleaned is that critics cannot prove that alternative methods other than “enhanced interrogation” methods were more effective and could have reached the same results.  According to the report’s summary, a “cable from CIA Headquarters did not require that non-coercive interrogation techniques be used first,” on 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed prior to enhanced methods.

On the other hand, certainly, various less violent methods under the proper conditions, likely provided some tangible results indicating that not all polices are flawless.  The drone program (seeming acceptance of collateral damage) and the NSA spying (apparent collection of Americans’ phone records) are also not without fault and should be reformed according to civil liberties champions.  That is the importance of the release of this report – if the United States wants to acknowledge wrong doing and reform their practices, or if the practices can be deemed a necessary evil given the circumstances.

Regardless, if the goal is security over all else – the enhanced interrogation and detention program along with others previously mentioned should continue unabated.  However, if the United States wants to continue to maintain that it is a global leader in human rights and humane treatment of all global citizens (for example condemning the actions of countries such as Egypt for its detention of journalists who’s only charge is speaking out against seemingly tyrannical state practices) – under no circumstances should the United States engage in programs that can be viewed as torture and the violation of basic human rights.  It is up to lawmakers and Americans to decide now.