AKIRA WATTS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
“Alas, the gates of life never swing open except upon death, never open except upon the palaces andgardens of death. And the universe appears to me like an immense, inexorable torture-garden… What Isay today, and what I heard, exists and cries and howls beyond this garden, which is no more than asymbol to me of the entire earth.”
― Octave Mirbeau
After years of delays and redactions and even a last minute intervention from Secretary of State Kerry, a man whose recent career seems devoted to destroying the moral legacy of his early years, the executive summary of the Senate Report on CIA Torture has finally been released. Spoiler alert. Torture? We sure did. There’s nothing that is terribly surprising in the report, beyond the endless brutality of the details, so now the game will shift to arguing over and spinning all the facts that we’ve known for so long.
It was not long after the events of September 11 that justifications were being written for torture. Legal opinions were issued, memoranda that defined the outer boundaries of what was acceptable. And we knew it was happening. And now those same memoranda are being used to grant immunity to those who carried out torture. And the predictable voices are lining up to claim that yeah, we tortured, but look at all the neat intelligence we got out of it. Sure we crossed a moral event horizon but we literally saved America from certain destruction.
Except look at what we did: “Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads.” We forced detainees to stand on broken legs. We engaged in something described as “rectal feeding,” without there being any documented medical necessity. And look at what we accomplished:
The Committee finds, based on a review of CIA interrogation records, that the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation.
For example, according to CIA records, seven of the 39 CIA detainees known to have been subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques produced no intelligence while in CIA custody. CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques were usually subjected to the techniques immediately after being rendered to CIA custody. Other detainees provided significant accurate intelligence prior to, or without having been subjected to these techniques.
While being subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and afterwards, multiple CIA detainees fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence. Detainees provide fabricated information on critical intelligence issues, including the terrorist threats which the CIA identified as its highest priorities.
Put more plainly, we tortured people and got less than nothing out of it.
And here’s something else: not only was the CIA’s usage of torture ineffective, they lied about its ineffectiveness. “The Committee reviewed 20 of the most frequent and prominent examples of purported counterterrorism successes that the CIA has attributed to the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques, and found them to be wrong in fundamental respects.” And that is an important thing to remember because, in coming days and weeks and months, we will continue to see those same lies tossed around.
But hey, at least we finally released this report. No matter what the spin and feeble attempts at justification, at least we admitted to what we did. Sure, we screwed up, what with “torturing some folks.” And sure that torture didn’t accomplish much. But look at us! We’re coming clean. We’re owning up to what we did. We’re shining sunlight so that the cockroaches may scatter. Never mind that we’re only confirming what we all knew, releasing this information is important.
Bully for us.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a certain symbolic importance to an official admission of our actions. That shouldn’t be discounted. But this is no time to pretend that the release of this report does much of anything to regain our moral high-ground (if ever we had it). We are a nation whose allies include a country that beheads people for witchcraft, another that imprisons 11 month old children, and a third that still can’t quite come to grips with its own flirtation with a bit of light torture 40 years ago. But now we’ve admitted to doing what the whole world has long known we have done. Shiny gold star for America!
The neat thing would be is if, maybe, now that we’ve come out and officially acknowledged what we’ve done, we stop trying to issue shabby justifications and excuses. It would be neat if we could stop pretending that these actions were anything more than the result of fear, viciousness, and stupidity. It would be neat if we could actually hold a few of the perpetrators accountable. It would be neat if the brutality and callousness of America were not adding to an already brutal and callous world. But none of those neat things will happen now, will they? We’ve come clean. We’ve gotten our shiny gold star. We can stop right now, right?