A few, somewhat belated, thoughts on Senate Democrats' partisan report regarding CIA interrogation/"torture" practices post-9/11:
(1) The report details some highly unpleasant tactics (though the CIA has pushed back on some of them), disturbing incidents, and deeply problematic cases of wrongly detaining alleged terrorists due to mistaken identity. CIA officials are right to own up to some serious mistakes during the chaotic period after the worst terrorist attack in American history. I cannot join the ranks of those who simply shrug off some of the document's specific findings by adopting a callous, "whatever, it's better than chopping off heads like the barbarians do" attitude. We are America, and we are much, much better than those monsters. Our actions must always reflect that reality. I'm also interested to hear what response the CIA will muster to outgoing Sen. Mark Udall's dramatic charges that another classified report authored during Leon Panetta's tenure at the agency proves that CIA officials -- including its current director -- are continuing to "lie" about the interrogation program. Udall called on CIA chief John Brennan to resign. With all of that said, the Democrat-authored report lacks credibility on numerous fronts, and strikes me as a nasty piece of of backwards-looking, partisan, cherry-picked, incomplete hatchet work.
(2) If you have not done so already, stop what you're doing and read this Wall Street Journal op/ed co written by six former CIA directors and assistant directors. It is devastating to the Feinstein/Democratic report, beginning with the astounding fact that its authors did not speak to anybody at the CIA who carried out or oversaw the 'enhanced interrogation' program. Outrageous:
The committee has given us instead a one-sided study marred by errors of fact and interpretation—essentially a poorly done and partisan attack on the agency that has done the most to protect America after the 9/11 attacks. How did the committee report get these things so wrong? Astonishingly, the staff avoided interviewing any of us who had been involved in establishing or running the program, the first time a supposedly comprehensive Senate Select Committee on Intelligence study has been carried out in this way. The excuse given by majority senators is that CIA officers were under investigation by the Justice Department and therefore could not be made available. This is nonsense. The investigations referred to were completed in 2011 and 2012 and applied only to certain officers. They never applied to six former CIA directors and deputy directors, all of whom could have added firsthand truth to the study. Yet a press account indicates that the committee staff did see fit to interview at least one attorney for a terrorist at Guantanamo Bay. We can only conclude that the committee members or staff did not want to risk having to deal with data that did not fit their construct.
This fact alone discredits Democrats' final product. This is a shocking, inexcusable "oversight." The remainder of the WSJ piece is devoting to debunking several heavily-reported conclusion the Democrats' report draws: Namely, that enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) "didn't work," and that the agency serially violated the guidelines set out by its civilian leadership. For a more complete picture of how off-base these determinations are, pick up a copy of Hard Measures by Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's clandestine service. EIT's absolutely, unequivocally worked to bring high-value, uniquely knowledgeable and evil Al Qaeda leaders into compliance. For all of the table-pounding over 'waterboarding,' this was a tactic employed against three -- total -- detainees, before the practice was ended. (The US military, by the way, routinely waterboards its own people during training exercises). The package of EITs used by the CIA brought about tangible results that saved lives, disrupted plots, and have US officials a far more complete picture of the shadowy network of death that was and is fixated on killing Americans:
These assertions are fleshed out in Rodriguez's memoirs. Whom do you believe? Partisan, point-scoring Senators, or people who devoted their lives to protecting Americans from asymmetrical and complex threats? Keep in mind that the former group chose not to consult the latter group before publicly crucifying them. One can argue that the EIT's constituted "torture" (many disagree) and that they were immoral, regardless of their efficacy. One cannot seriously argue that they were not effective at all, as the Feinstein report does. Also, former federal prosecutor Andy McCarthy makes mincemeat of the argument that detainees blurted out nothing but lies, just to make the "torture" stop. The White House won't take sides over whether the EIT's worked, and President Obama won't definitively say whether he'd have ordered the very same steps if he'd been in his predecessor's shoes. Former Obama Defense Secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta, an opponent of EITs, admitted that they played a role in getting bin Laden (several Bush-era policies did). These controversial programs worked. Oh, and there's this:
Calling Lee Hamilton and Tom Keane: Over 1/4 of 1700 footnotes in your 9/11 report came from CIA interrogations. Feinstein says of no value— Marc Thiessen (@marcthiessen) December 9, 2014
(3) For the umpteenth time, Democrats who feign outrage over the CIA's tactics willfully ignore the established fact that Congress' bipartisan leadership teams were extensively briefed on EITs, including water boarding. According to several accounts, reactions from lawmakers ranged from registering no objections to asking if the agency needed to go further. Nancy Pelosi's lies on this matter are uniquely disgusting. Based on documented evidence, the CIA briefed at least 68 members of Congress on the programs. Senate Republicans' competing report on EITs, which has received far less media attention, affirms the CIA's contention that their actions after 9/11 spared innocent lives and weakened Al Qaeda.
(4) How do supporters of President Obama's death-by-drone program -- which I largely support, but which has sometimes relied on dodgy terrorist 'profiling' measures -- justify their indignant criticism of EITs and Guantanamo Bay? Waterboarding, sleep deprivation, emasculating acts and threats are unconscionable violations of "our values," but summary liquidation via drone is fine? The former practices produce intelligence and keep prisoners alive. The latter does not. This contradiction has never been adequately explained, beyond pure partisan hackery.
(5) The release of this slanted, agenda-driven report has placed more American lives in danger (I actually think transparency is important here, and would have backed the release of a fair assessment, despite the risk), infuriated and betrayed allies who've worked with us, and demoralized many honorable CIA current and former employees:
I know v senior Western intel types who collaborated w/IC on renditions, etc. They are beyond furious today. Gotten hellish emails already.— John Schindler (@20committee) December 9, 2014
Best email so far: "We will not forget this. US(G) betrayed us. We know who is responsible & we will remember." (top NATO intel official)— John Schindler (@20committee) December 9, 2014
30 year CIA employee tells me she's "pissed" about EIT report. "They were all briefed." On Feinstein: "I thought she was better than this."— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) December 10, 2014
What did this accomplish? It may fire up the lefty base and sate ideologues' political bloodlust after a brutal election, but this issue isn't a major advantage to posturing Democrats. Why? Americans overwhelmingly believe that "torture" is sometimes justified:
Parting thought: How many of these grandstanding politicians will be angrily demanding why the CIA didn't "connect the dots" after the next attack, God forbid?