Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"We did what we had to do."

Yesterday was a very bad day for this country.

The Senate Intelligence Committee released its much anticipated, highly controversial report on the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The report concludes that the CIA misinformed or failed to inform congress, the White House and the public of the use, effectiveness and brutality of the of the techniques employed by CIA operatives in the interrogation of suspected terrorists.

The report is graphic in nature as it details the disturbing manner in which detainees were treated as the country struggled to recover from the events of 9/11. Detainees were humiliated, physically beaten, psychologically tortured and maimed. Two detainees died in CIA custody as a result of their treatment.

In response the CIA offered no apologies. The agency remains firm that the enhanced interrogation techniques used were legal and instrumental in obtaining actionable intelligence that saved American lives. They assert that congress was fully briefed on their activities and that any assertions to the contrary are disingenuous.

The Justice Department stated yesterday that the gruesome events outlined in the report will not result in its reopening of a criminal investigation into the CIA’s treatment of detainees.

I don’t know where to begin.

Let me say in fairness that the report does seem prosecutorial in nature. The committees’ findings are the result of a five and a half year review of over 6 million pages of CIA memos, briefings and emails. The committee did not interview White House or CIA officials to get their side of the story.

It should also be noted that the report was written without benefit of providing the context during which the CIA was operating at the time. The World Trade Center towers had just been attacked. 3,000 were dead; thousands more injured. The country was paranoid that more attacks were coming. CIA officials were called in and told essentially: “You screwed up. Don’t let it happen again.” The pressure to find the perpetrators was enormous. The thirst for revenge was palpable.

That said I find the agency’s response to the report both curious and telling.

The initial CIA response was to object to the release of the report for fear its revelations would enrage our enemies and put American lives at risk. The content is factual…its release dangerous.

Then, no longer refuting the legitimacy of the content, the CIA moves on to its next defense; that the resulting intelligence made it all worthwhile; the end justifies the means. As one former Bush staffer put it: “We did what we had to do.”

Deflection is next; this in the form of deflecting blame back onto congress. What did congress know and when did they know it?

Last but not least is the defense that to me is a false equivalence. Defenders of the CIA say its critics are ok with US foot soldiers kicking down doors and shooting people…sometimes innocent civilians. They’re ok with dropping bombs from drones on “suspected terrorists” that kill innocent civilians as well. But they get all squeamish about the CIA water boarding a guy that we know wants to kill us. This deflection misses the salient point that the former are considered acceptable under international rules of engagement. The latter is a violation of international law under the Geneva Convention.

This circular firing squad will continue in the weeks and months to come. It misses a far greater point.

As a nation we claim to hold a high moral standard. We proclaim ourselves to be “a nation of laws.” Unfortunately that’s not true. We are actually a nation of convenience that follows the law when it suits our needs. In this country the application of the law depends on who you are. In this country depending on who you are you can get away with selling junk mortgages as AAA instruments, selling arms for hostages, shooting an unarmed youth, choking an unarmed citizen, outing a CIA covert operative, lying to the American people, violating the Geneva Convention or engage in war crimes. Morals and laws don’t matter. In this country, depending on who you are, the end justifies the means.

This we know. The Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America violated international law by torturing detainees. The agency was operating under authorization granted by the highest office in our land. These activities constitute war crimes against humanity and should result in criminal prosecution under both United States and international law. In this country that will never happen.

As an American citizen these illegal activities were conducted on my behalf…in my name. I for one categorically reject any and all assertions that the tactics used are not war crimes in violation of international law. Those who wish to continue to assert that these government authorized tactics are acceptable are proving once again that the application of law in this country is a matter of convenience. I wonder if they would feel the same if CIA interrogators were pureeing their dinner and force feeding it to them via a tube inserted in their rectum.

There is a moral standard here as well as a legal one. Both lines were crossed.

You can debate the definition and value of torture for the rest of your days.

But please spare me the assertion that we are a nation of laws.

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