by Rob Tiller
This week I was quite shaken by the new Senate report on the CIA’s program of “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on those suspected of Jihadist terrorist intentions. I had, of course, already heard there’d been some very rough stuff, like water boarding. But I hadn’t known (and may still not, since much information is still secret) the full extent of the barbarity and depravity.
For example, the concept of “rectal feeding” was new to me. I suspected based on high school biology that it was not possible to feed humans through the southern side, and I checked – this is correct. Folks, we’re talking about our government, which is to say, humans purporting to act on your and my behalf, anally raping prisoners. It’s hard to see how we can just let this pass.
I also hadn’t known that the foundation of the program included systematic and pervasive lies not just to the public but also to Congress and the Executive. It was certainly news to me that the architects of the program were amateurs with no prior experience in intelligence. And I hadn’t previously known for certain that the program was not remotely justified by intelligence gathering achievements.
Some may say I’m just sentimental about human dignity and the concept of the rule of law, and these are notions we can’t afford when we’re in an existential battle with evil. Perhaps. But the evidence from the Senate report is that the successes of the CIA interrogators actually came from conventional, non-“enhanced” methods. The enhanced techniques produced misery, madness, and death, but did not defuse any ticking time bombs. It may be that those who directed this program were the ones who were in a dream world, imagining both an existential threat from terrorism and a simple solution to that threat.
It’s fascinating, and disturbing, to see present and former CIA and Bush administration officials stepping up to praise and defend the program. It’s no surprise that they would defend their work, and perhaps they are in some sense sincere. They’ve probably got cognative dissonance, and are managing it as best they can. They could also have more practical and selfish motives, like heading off any discussion of whether they should be tried for war crimes.
In any event, the fact that these officials are still willing to defend the CIA torture program underlines the importance of our holding accountable those who directed and participated in this abomination. We cannot leave ambiguous the question of whether it is acceptable to torture prisoners. No future official should be in doubt that this is criminal behavior, for which they are subject to imprisonment.
Of course, though I hate to say, they’ll probably get away with it. There’s no special interest that will provide campaign dollars in exchange for standing up for human rights of prisoners. There are a few, but too few, of our representatives prepared to spend political capital on an issue that none of us enjoy thinking about.
And the knowledge, thanks to Edward Snowden, that our electronic communications may well be being screened by the NSA for signs of dissent will make some of us who feel outrage and shame hesitate to speak up and demand justice and accountability. These are, after all, the people who so far have the unchecked power to make us disappear into “black sites” and rectally feed us. I don’t mean to exaggerate. Plainly, I don’t think this is an immediate threat, since I’ve just made a critical public statement about it. But I must admit, I hesitated. I’m so sorry this has happened to our country.
I’d like to call out The Washington Post for its extensive and clear-eyed coverage of this dark and shameful chapter. Here is a particularly helpful quick guide to the Senate report from the Post.