Members of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted recently to release a report on the “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) used in questioning terrorist subjects in the years following the 9/11 attacks during the Bush administration. The classified report now goes back to the CIA for permission to release it to the general public because Congress can't release information that was classified by the executive branch without its permission.
There are reasons for misgivings about making the report public, not the least of which is that its release could be timed to affect November voting. The crucial question, however, is whether the report includes a clear and fair determination, based on credible evidence, of whether EITs actually gained intelligence information that saved American lives or led to the capture of more terrorists.
|There has been much muddleheaded debate on torture mainly because what wasn't torture in 2003 now probably is.|
Following 9/11, the Justice Department under the Bush administration issued the March 2003 “Yoo Memorandum,” which was the department's legal opinion on interrogation techniques. It was addressed to the general counsel of the Defense Department.
The first part of the memo recognized that capture and interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects was a top national security priority. It said intelligence information was the most critical weapon for defeating terrorism and, because of al-Qaeda’s highly secretive operational nature, obtaining information about its operatives and plans could sometimes be the only means of preventing another 9/11.
The second part of the Yoo report addressed then-current U.S. laws against torture. It said that, for an interrogator to be guilty of torture, he must be proven to have specifically intended to cause severe mental pain or suffering and prolonged mental harm. Yoo analyzed the UN Convention Against Torture and concluded there was no conflict between it and U.S. law.
There has been much muddleheaded debate on torture mainly because what wasn't torture in 2003 now probably is. In 2005, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., led Congress in making a substantial change to the law. Before McCain's amendment was passed, waterboarding - simulated drowning - was almost certainly legal because it wasn't intended to cause prolonged mental harm.
The evidence that it didn’t were the thousands of U.S. pilots and special operations troops who went through water-boarding in their “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape” training. Because of McCain’s amendment, water-boarding is now almost certainly illegal. To further complicate matters, the CIA reportedly used waterboarding differently than the SERE school guidelines allowed.
Most of the currently available public information on waterboarding is derived from former CIA Director George Tenet's memoir, in which he says that the EITs garnered more useful intelligence than all the other sources and methods then available to U.S. officials.
In the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama made a big issue of torture. Among his first acts in office was canceling the EITs and limiting interrogation techniques to those listed in the U.S. Army Field Manual. It's high time we learned whether the EITs saved American lives and whether those that remain illegal should be reinstated. If the report achieves those ends, then it should be released.