Former CIA Directors Respond to Torture Report

[CN: Torture.]

Former CIA Directors George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden, and former CIA Deputy Directors John McLaughlin, Albert Calland, and Stephen Kappes have penned a lengthy response to the Torture Report for the Wall Street Journal.

I recommend reading the entire thing, but two things in particular jumped out at me:

1. The continued justification of torture on the basis that it "saved thousands of lives." That contention is based on the fact that the "detention and interrogation program," as they like to call it, yielded intelligence that thwarted terror plots. Which may be true.

(Or may be more trumped-up bullshit to claim victories that really aren't. Also: If you haven't seen The Newburgh Sting, I highly recommend it.)

But if it is indeed accurate that real, serious, likely, catastrophic terror plots were thwarted, there is no evidence that they couldn't have been thwarted using other means. There's no suggestion that other means were even tried. The former directors say, simply: "We are convinced that both would not have talked absent the interrogation program."

That is truly not good enough.

And it also not good enough for this policy to be continually defended on the basis that it "saved thousands of lives" as though every life that was allegedly saved definitely belongs to a person who wants torture used to "save" them. I realize not everyone feels the same way, but, presuming for a moment that their contention about torture saving lives was even true, I am eminently willing to assume more personal risk in order to not have people tortured.

Further, there is no reflection at all upon the fact that saving "thousands of lives" using a torture program which has become a recruiting tool for Islamic extremists might have risked countless other lives in the long run.

If saving lives is really the only metric that matters, then surely the reports which have found that US' use of torture, extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, and drones have made us less safe and put more lives at risk needs to be part of that equation.

2. A variation on the President's argument that we (and especially those damn dirty Democrats in the Senate) need to understand that they did what they had to in the wake of 9/11, which was a different time:
The detention and interrogation program was formulated in the aftermath of the murders of close to 3,000 people on 9/11. ...In this atmosphere, time was of the essence and the CIA felt a deep responsibility to ensure that an attack like 9/11 would never happen again. We designed the detention and interrogation programs at a time when "relationship building" was not working with brutal killers who did not hesitate to behead innocents.

...On that important issue it is important to know that the dilemma CIA officers struggled with in the aftermath of 9/11 was one that would cause discomfort for those enamored of today's easy simplicities: Faced with post-9/11 circumstances, CIA officers knew that many would later question their decisions—as we now see—but they also believed that they would be morally culpable for the deaths of fellow citizens if they failed to gain information that could stop the next attacks.
So, this is a really interesting juxtaposition, because the former directors reference the beheading of civilians as the reason that they couldn't possibly have been reasonably expected to engage in relationship building (it's cool how they put that in scare quotes)—but IS is beheading civilians more frequently and visibly than al-Qaeda was in 2001.

And yet this is a dilemma the CIA faced only in the aftermath of 9/11. And not one they are facing now. (Nor one they evidently faced after the Boston Marathon bombing.) Which speaks to political pressure, rather than a strictly objective response to facts on the ground.

That's a problem, too. When fear and politics drives CIA policy, well, apparently it looks a lot like torture.

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