Diane Feinstein clearly made the decision that she wanted to toss a grenade into the room as she leaves her chair heading the Intelligence Committee by releasing the so called “torture report.” It’s going to take the media a long time to sort through hundreds of pages of material which comprise only the executive summary of the 6,000 page document, but the highlights are predictable. The GOP is essentially calling the findings fiction, while the Democrats want it flushed out into the press. Whether they are looking to swamp the Gruber testimony (as Noah posited last night) or just want one last shot at George W. Bush, the result will be the same. Trouble is coming, but it may be a bandage we need to rip off once and for all and get it over with.
No matter the outcome, it’s clear that the CIA is being played for a political pawn here.
In one ear they hear the public, the media and members of Congress raising alarms about the terrorist threat from the Islamic State: Do something! Do it now! Why didn’t you do something sooner? Politicians from both sides of the aisle are saying that the militant group is an enormous challenge and must be prevented from bringing its brutality to America’s shores. The president assures us that the United States will “degrade and ultimately destroy” these terrorists, while the vice president doubles down and says we will follow the Islamic State to “the gates of hell.”
But shouting in CIA officers’ other ear are people such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) regarding the 500-page summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the agency’s interrogation efforts, which is expected to be released next week. The report’s leaked conclusion, which has been reported on widely, that the interrogation program brought no intelligence value is an egregious falsehood; it’s a dishonest attempt to rewrite history. I’m bemused that the Senate could devote so many resources to studying the interrogation program and yet never once speak to any of the key people involved in it, including the guy who ran it (that would be me).
The question of whether or not this will cause additional danger to American interests around the globe seems cut and dried. It’s an obvious risk which Feinstein should have taken into account. But I will agree with her to a point on one aspect of it: enemies of the United States are in a constant state of outrage against us every day. If they are going to be stirred to more violence, it would have happened sooner or later anyway. Perhaps having it come when we are on high alert and standing guard after the release of the report will save a bit of damage.
The politics will be ugly to be sure, but this may provide an uncomfortable path for the public to get this out of their system once and for all. When it comes to the issue of “torture” when dealing with terrorists, I’m not going to pretend it’s an easy matter to digest. As an early opponent of the Iraq war, I was one of those people in the earlier days of the conflict who firmly opposed the practices in question, whether you call it torture or Enhanced Interrogation Techniques. We were duty bound, I felt, to listen to our better angels take the high road, even if it cost us some advantage. I debated the matter at length with Ed on the pages of Captain’s Quarters for years.
It’s been a decade or more since then, and things have changed. Perhaps I’ve changed. I know my attitude toward the threat we face on a global level certainly has. And with that perspective to draw on, I believe that many other early opponents have seen things in a new, darker view as well. In the end, this doesn’t come down to a question of human rights because the enemies we are dealing with don’t deserve the label of “human” to many of us. I believe what really turned the tide was the rise of ISIS, a group which can only be separated from those who attacked us in September of 2001 by the most surgical dance of definitions. It took seeing one beheading after another, now including the necks of Americans. It took years of witnessing the brutality and utter lack of humanity on the part of those who would seek to destroy us. And the milk of human kindness dried up in my soul when it comes to those we capture on the field of battle. We are not dealing with men, but with monsters. And when the monsters come, sometimes torches and pitchforks are required.
An increasing number of Americans are moving more and more toward wanting to declare all out war on ISIS and have Congress take a stand on the subject as well. And in that war, some ugly things are going to happen if we have any hope of winning. So let the report show that we went to even greater lengths than previously acknowledged. Let the politicians flap their arms for the cameras. In the end, I think a lot of us have resigned ourselves to the now oft quoted words of Richard Grenier when describing the views of George Orwell. To paraphrase, we have come to accept that many of us sleep more peacefully in our beds at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on our behalf. And if it takes the release of this report and the subsequent debate among Americans to have us struggle with this reality, perhaps some good will come of it after all.