Will We Ever Know the Truth About Torture?
Without a serious, nonpartisan investigation, the real story may never come out.
A man walks across the seal of the Central Intelligence Agency at the lobby of the Original Headquarters Building at the CIA headquarters February 19, 2009 in McLean, Virginia.
Politics stand in the way of facts.
By Daniel J. Gallington Aug. 11, 2014 | 2:45 p.m. EDT + More
A combination of what appears to be intentional selective reporting and shaded commentary by the media and a partisan Senate Intelligence Committee investigation has apparently licensed President Barack Obama to say, offhand, that “we tortured some folks” – that is, during the George W. Bush administration. However, based on the facts we know so far, this seems primarily a political determination.
Having written extensively about this debate – going on for almost a dozen years – it has now gotten to the point where our current president is essentially accusing our last president of a crime, a sad state of affairs for the American people and for the future of this great republic.
To the contrary, what’s needed now is the exercise of some mature leadership and very sound judgment; unfortunately, neither is coming from any of the parties with political equity in this matter. And that seems to be most everyone in Washington, assisted by those reporting the story in the media.
[READ: Time to Clean House at the CIA]
We have not yet seen the so-called investigation run by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Democratic staff, nor the various inspector general reports done by the CIA on so-called “enhanced interrogation.” Nor do we really need to in order to determine that what has happened to this stage is in the pure politics category – and it is ugly!
Here are the basic questions and issues that have surfaced in the media on enhanced interrogation over the past dozen or so years, most of them simply partisan and political, with a possible exception or two:
•Was what was initially approved torture?: Bush administration appointed Republican lawyers at the CIA and Department of Justice say no, but Obama appointed Democrat lawyers say yes. Pick a side; there seems no answer to this basic question that doesn’t involve a political interpretation or judgment of some kind.
•Did the Bush administration tell the Congress about enhanced interrogation?: Republican members of the intelligence committees say yes; Democrat members – including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – say no. Others say they were lied to.
•When they were briefed, did the members of the intelligence committees express reservations about the program?: Again, a partisan answer, except that some, presumably Republican, members apparently thought that the program wasn’t aggressive enough.
•Were the Bush administration lawyers who approved and defined the enhanced interrogation that the CIA proposed guilty of professional misconduct?: After two extensive inquiries and reviews, even the Obama administration’s DOJ has determined that, while the Bush lawyers may have been wrong, they were not guilty of professional misconduct.
•Could the Senate Select Committee’s investigation be objective? While Democrats say yes, there appears no way this could be the case, simply because the Republican staff of the committee did not participate in the investigation. Therefore, it was – from the very beginning – a partisan Democratic staff inquiry of a Republican intelligence program, and the findings of the investigation are politically tainted accordingly.
•Did the CIA spy on the Democratic committee staffers’ computers?: Apparently, it did and the CIA has admitted it. This is not partisan so much as it is really dumb, and whoever did it, approved it and knew about it at the CIA should be fired.
•Are the various CIA inspector general investigations into enhanced interrogation credible? Despite the fact that the CIA inspector general is supposed to be independent and is confirmed by the Senate, he or she serves as a political appointee. The other tension is that the CIA inspector general is in house and could be presumed to side with the agency if there is a way to do so. Bottom line: The CIA inspector general investigations should be looked at carefully, and because of the various competing political tensions in their product, we should expect them to be more objective than the Democratic staff investigation.
•The various investigations, such as they are, are now being redacted so that they can eventually be released to the public: This process of blocking out classified information can easily be politicized, and often is, as it is the executive department (ultimately the sitting president) that determines what remains classified and what is released. Accordingly, even when redacted reports are released, they can also speak from a political point of view, and most of them do.
While this list could go on – and undoubtedly will, as more information is made available – it confirms that pure politics is the primary motivator, so far, when it comes to the enhanced interrogation debate. However, the most important assessments of the program have not yet received the attention they deserve.
Assuming that the enhanced interrogation program, as described initially by the CIA to the DOJ, was not and did not amount to torture – as such appears in relevant legal definitions – was it actually carried out that way, or did those carrying out enhanced interrogations exceed what was authorized? To help answer this, what records were kept about the interrogations themselves? And in this context, it has been reported that videos were made of interrogations but that they were destroyed. This is unfortunate and, at the very least, renders the implementation of the program suspect – specifically, as to whether it conformed to what was actually authorized by the DOJ. In fact, in the minds of some intelligence professionals, it shows that the program was probably, at the very least, mismanaged. Otherwise why destroy videos?
What was the oversight mechanism for the program? If the program was competently and professionally carried out, it would have had a detailed oversight annex addressing most of the issues that have been getting speculation in the media. In fact, the oversight annex may be the key document in assessing whether the enhanced interrogation program was carried out competently and in accordance with what was initially approved by DOJ. It goes without saying that if there was no oversight annex, the program was probably doomed to fail from the start.
Will we ever know the real truth about the enhanced interrogation program? With each politically charged statement it appears that we may not without something like a focused, bipartisan Watergate-style or 9/11 Commission-type investigation, with witnesses put under oath and a professional bipartisan staff. And even that will involve partisan politics and finger-pointing – a sad fact of life in Washington, even when it comes to our national security.