The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s torture program following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks confirms that, in certain instances, torture can be an effective tool in extracting useful information from terrorist suspects. But the report provides far more convincing evidence that torture is antithetical to American values and ultimately harmful to national security.
The 6,300-page report is the result of a five-year investigation by the Intelligence Committee into the use of torture by CIA agents in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The 500-page summary released Tuesday pulls no punches, outlining in detail the grotesque “enhanced interrogation” techniques used to pry information from detainees.
In addition to waterboarding, which was characterized in the report as “near drowning,” agents also kept prisoners naked and awake for up to a week, threatened them with sexual assault with broomsticks, physically beat them, kept them in cramped boxes for hundreds of hours and subjected them to other degradations. Investigators also determined that torture was more widespread that originally thought.
But the Senate panel concluded that torture didn’t produce much useful information. The study found that, under torture, detainees often provided fabricated or inaccurate information, essentially telling interrogators anything to make the pain stop.
In other instances, the report said, the information was accurate but unrelated to terror threats. And in other cases, the information provided by tortured detainees already had been acquired in other ways.
The CIA, which provided its official 100-page response along with the summary, contends that “the sum total of information provided from detainees in CIA custody substantially advanced the agency’s strategic and tactical understanding of the enemy in ways that continue to inform counter-terrorism efforts to this day.” And that may well be true.
But the overriding question must be whether torture furthers our broader counter-terrorism goals and enhances our national security. This report strongly supports the contention that torture ultimately undermines our security and our ability to serve as a moral example for the rest of the world.
Many public officials have argued that the release of this report was a mistake, that our enemies would seize upon it and use it against us. But that, ironically, may be the best argument for banning the use of torture by U.S. agents. It’s a recruiting devices for our enemies.
“Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored,” said Sen. John McCain, the only member of the Senate who actually has experienced torture, in response to the report.
As President Barack Obama noted, CIA agents are patriots, and we are safer because of their heroic service and sacrifices. But, he added, “our most effective tools in fighting terrorism and keeping Americans safe is staying true to our ideals at home and abroad.”
Saying no to torture allows to us uphold our values and makes us stronger as a nation. Torture does neither.