Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The torture report

Yesterday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released its long-awaited torture report, and that's the end of the good news. Websites all over the internet are running their own versions of this article: The Most Horrific Revelations of the CIA Torture Report. There are a few general points I'd like to highlight as well.

It turns out that everything we thought we already knew was actually much worse than we thought. The report reveals that the CIA tortured more people than we thought, were far more brutal than we thought, and intentionally thwarted Congressional oversight even more than we thought. The report confirms that torture is ineffective, but also reveals that the CIA knew this even as it still continues to insist otherwise.

And of course we have to assume that the worst remains undisclosed. I mean, that's just how these things work. I'm grateful that this report was published at all, because there was a big push from inside the intelligence community to sit on it. The release was carefully negotiated between the White House, the CIA, and the Senate Intelligence Committee. Those negotiations have produced a partially-redacted 500-page executive summary of a 6,000 page document. There's still a lot we don't know, and it isn't the benign stuff that gets withheld.

The release of the report was met with genuine outrage, and I hope that this will spur Congress and the president into some kind of meaningful reform. But really, anything short of vigorous prosecution of everyone involved at every level is a white-wash. The people responsible for this are still around, and they're not chastened at all. Despite all of the evidence, they just know that torture works. I suspect this is a psychological defense mechanism. All of that means that this isn't over. Without prosecutions, people will know in the future that they can torture and lie about it to Congress without any repercussions. Imagine if you really believed that torture saved lives, and you knew you'd face no consequences, and you were presented with a suspected terrorist in custody. Under those circumstances, why wouldn't you torture him?

The legal framework of the Bush era torture regime is still in place. Obama put a stop to it by executive order, but there has been no legal reform to prevent this from happening again. All it would take is for a subsequent president (or even Obama himself) to rescind that executive order, and torture could resume immediately. This is not the last we've heard of the Bush era torture regime.

Finally, the issue of torture reaches beyond just the Bush era, and it's broader than just the "war on terror". We're still force-feeding prisoners every day down in Gitmo, and our civilian prisons have a disturbing fondness for solitary confinement. This nightmare is not over. There will be a political battle over this that plays out in the media, but beneath all that theater, the United States is an avowedly pro-torture country. President Obama can tell us that this report doesn't reflect the true values of America, and my god I think he might really believe that, but it does. This is who we are.  

No comments:

Post a Comment