The Senate Torture Report Is a Partisan Mess

In its excoriation of post-September 11th interrogation tactics, the new partisan Senate report essentially discounts human nature and the reasonable response to an unorthodox and highly lethal enemy.

Masquerading as this week’s political scandal du jour, the Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee released a scathing report on CIA interrogation practices after September 11th 2001. To any fair-minded observer, the list of harsh techniques documented in the report is alarming and sure to stoke the ongoing flames of controversy over what constitutes torture, if and when these tactics are ever appropriate and whether or not extreme treatments such as these can lead to valuable intelligence. This is a debate that is likely to rage on for many years to come.

In the ensuing days since the report’s release, with armchair analysts from both sides of the argument showing their outrage, no one seems to be addressing a very basic question: why? Why were these actions taken? What was the motivation? Why were other nations — the UK, Canada, Poland, etc. — involved at such a fundamental level and in many cases without strong objection? The report itself, at least from the parts of the summary that I have read, is woefully short on explanation here.

I believe these questions can be answered quite simply: it was the reasonable response. When a shadowy international terrorist syndicate plots and executes a mass murder of more than 3,000 innocent people in broad daylight in the center of the symbolic capital city of Western democracy, the most reasonable human reaction — perhaps the only one — is to comb every corner of the earth to find, capture and destroy all functional elements of the enemy organization with extreme prejudice.

This is human nature at work. And our history is ripe with examples where anything less than a one-track approach to the total destruction of existential enemies can only result in failure. In fact, it could be argued that a lesser reaction would reflect a derangement of Western culture so extensive as to justify the terrorists’ belief that America is the Great Satan — a subversive culture devoid of morals.

With that said, we still have to ask why torture or something equivalent would be part of the U.S. response. Again, the answer to that is simple: on some level, it worked. That is not to condone torture or defend all actions and steps taken. The CIA, Justice Department and the White House have at various times and to varying degrees admitted that mistakes were made, and that much of what occurred in the darkest hours of these interrogations and extraordinary renditions could have been handled differently. But one cannot pass judgment on the sum whole of the CIA’s efforts without placing a crucial point front and center: there has not been another terrorist attack by Al Qaeda on American soil since 9/11. The collective efforts of the intelligence community have a great deal to do with this, and we cannot lose sight of this fact during current and future debates on the subject.

All the talk of retroactive prosecution or holding American leadership accountable in front of the United Nations or some other “impartial” international body is a smokescreen for actors with ulterior motives — i.e. punishing political opponents and ideological foes. In spite of some of the inhumane treatments and interrogation techniques, the United States has pursued justice in a civilized manner meeting a higher standard than that of any other nation facing a similar level of threat at any point in history. The fact that the White House Counsel and the Department of Justice went to such great lengths to establish a framework guided by American law for how to deal with the engagement, capture, detainment and interrogation of terrorist suspects — expansive though some of the guidelines may have been — is evidence alone of our nation’s commitment to higher moral standing and respect for rule of law. Is this not civility?

One need look no further than the internment of Japanese Americans and other foreign citizens during WWII for a historical example of desperate measures as an unfortunate consequence of an otherwise famously successful defense of American sovereignty against evil. The War on Terror’s relentless and often savage pursuit of murderous villains around the globe, and the ensuing, equally vicious deconstruction of these suspects for actionable intel have as a whole contributed to a safer republic where intellectuals are free to publish idealistic treatises on our nation’s moral purity (or perceived lack thereof).

If this report had a) interviewed and taken both sides of the story into consideration, rather than opting for one-sided partisanship, b) established some context of the gravity of the post-9/11 moment and the unique nature of the secretive, decentralized, barbaric enemy facing the U.S. and c) endeavored to lay out some constructive alternatives or specific examples where the CIA and other parties could have both saved lives and acted in a “more civilized” manner….then perhaps we would have a valuable use of $40 million taxpayer dollars and a productive discussion point for strengthening our institutions while continuing to maintain a safe and secure democracy. As it is, this is just another one-sided political potshot that undermines the efficacy of its more urgent and important insights.

Finally, to the partisan analysts and windbags who have accepted the report as gospel without due consideration of alternative viewpoints or paying mind to the possibility that there were (and still aren’t) many easy answers in a complicated ongoing struggle versus a widespread fascist ideology that considers the United States its mortal enemy: shame on you. Intelligent and articulate scholars and commentators should aspire to a more balanced analysis.