The CIA Misled on Torture

[Content Note: Torture.]

This is what anyone without a pro-torture agenda suspected all along, and now we have confirmation of it. As unsurprising as it is profoundly infuriating, sad, contemptible:
A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that the CIA misled the government and the public about aspects of its brutal interrogation program for years — concealing details about the severity of its methods, overstating the significance of plots and prisoners, and taking credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques.

The report, built around detailed chronologies of dozens of CIA detainees, documents a long-standing pattern of unsubstantiated claims as agency officials sought permission to use — and later tried to defend — excruciating interrogation methods that yielded little, if any, significant intelligence, according to U.S. officials who have reviewed the document.
Paul Waldman has some excellent commentary on the report:
The part that will likely get the most attention is the conclusion that torture produced little if any useful intelligence, which is extremely important. But even more damning is the picture the committee paints of a CIA that all along was trying to convince everyone that what they were doing was effective, even as it failed to produce results.

...In the case of the CIA (and the Bush administration), they had a moral sunk cost in the torture program. They had made an extraordinary ethical choice, to make torture the official policy of the United States (and renaming it "enhanced interrogation" wasn't going to fool anyone, not even themselves). Once that decision was made and the torture began, it had to be effective, and not just effective but fantastically effective, in order to justify the moral compromise they had made. When the torture program failed to produce the results they hoped for, they could have said, "This stuff isn't working; let's focus on what does." But by then they couldn't retreat; the only hope of balancing the moral scales was to go forward.

...The picture this paints is one of an agency that is simultaneously torturing prisoners, without much effect, and also trying desperately to tell a story to the rest of the government that the torture is working. And to this day, everyone on up the chain—most recently Dick Cheney, who said the other day of the torture program that he'd do it all over again, because "The results speak for themselves"—insists the same thing. Because if it didn't work, what are they? They're monsters. They transgressed one of humanity's most profound moral injunctions, for nothing. And no one wants to believe that about themselves.
That rings true, at least for some members of the Bush administration who developed, facilitated, and advocated this policy. And I strongly suspect that, for other of their cohorts, possibly including the former vice-president who says, perhaps without irony, that "the results speak for themselves," there was simply a cruel indifference to whether torture was effective, except insomuch as the claim that it was engendered support among some parts of the public to which they are ostensible accountable.

By which I mean: There are almost certainly architects of this lamentable policy for whom the fact that torture was simply torture for torture's sake was not a bug, but a feature.

When we are governed by people who are eager, rather than profoundly reluctant, to pursue policies that will result in harm, we should not be surprised to discover that there are among them people who simply enjoy doing harm on a grand scale.

That is a lesson we have been taught over and over by certain of our leaders, and yet we repeat the same mistakes. I suppose because there are enough of us who, like those ruthless stewards of the state, don't regard them as mistakes.

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