Last Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the executive summary of its report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and intelligence programs and a rebuttal written by the Republican members of the committee. The 524-page summary—the only portion of the much larger and longer study on the same topic that has been declassified—represented a scathing indictment of the CIA and the tactics it following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.
The grisly details of the report should give all Americans pause: It is clear from the report that the torture program run by the CIA was morally and legally wrong, ineffective, and unsuccessful in providing intelligence. As a nation, we cannot compromise our values—even in the midst of the fight against terrorism, and even when such a concession seems temptingly expedient.
Despite some attempts to defend the CIA’s techniques, there can be no doubt that the agency engaged in morally dubious acts as a means of extracting information. In some cases, prisoners were subjected to waterboarding, rectal feeding, or intentional sleep deprivation. Other prisoners were buried alive or handcuffed by the wrists to overhead bars for hours. Though lawyers from the Justice Department had previously approved some of these techniques (in direct contrast with the stated positions of the United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights), CIA personnel also utilized various other, unapproved methods. In addition, the report calls into question the competency and training of many of the interrogators. Both the interrogation techniques and the interrogators themselves were inappropriately chosen and crossed a moral line; the actions of the program were inexcusable and a betrayal of this nation’s principles.
Moreover, the willingness of the CIA to mislead Congress about the effectiveness of its interrogation program is deeply troublesome. Members of the CIA had previously testified about the efficacy of enhanced interrogation techniques in obtaining valuable information from prisoners, but the report casts doubts on these testimonies and suggests exactly the opposite—that these techniques were instead detrimental to the overall interrogation program. The CIA’s attempts to conceal the truth and to prevent Congressional oversight of its actions only serve to further exacerbate our worries.
This editorial is not intended to be a condemnation of the CIA as a whole; rather, it is a rebuke of one of its programs at a particular and peculiar juncture in time. Many projects and programs overseen by the CIA and other American intelligence agencies are doubtlessly essential to the welfare and security of the United States.
It is also important to acknowledge, however, that the unveiling of this report was a necessary step in holding the CIA accountable for the unacceptable actions that have pervaded its detention program, and as a means of providing a warning for the future. In fact, if there is more information in the 6000 pages of the report which could further inform policy and better our picture of what happened, it ought to be released as well.
This country must remain vigilant, even in times of war, toward the activities of our intelligence agencies. Our ideals and our values are part of what those agencies seek to defend; they should not be compromised in the process of defense. This must not happen again.
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