Tainted with Torture

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By Benjamin G. Davis, Associate Professor of Law, University of Toledo College of Law

On December 13, 2012, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved a report on the enhanced interrogation techniques program (“the Torture Report”). The Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee Diane Feinstein stated in her cover letter that after a review of millions of pages of documents , the still classified 6000 page report concluded that the use of the torture had been both ineffective and counterproductive in the War against Al-Qaeda. The significance in the American polity of this explicit and bipartisan rejection of the idea that torture works cannot be overstated.

For nearly twelve years the apologists for torture have justified to the American people its use because it was said to be necessary and effective. We now find that justification to be false. The apologists for torture have fallen silent or have turned to a new argument – torture as payback. The most clear expression of that new payback argument is in the movie Zero Dark Thirty set to be released across the nation on January 11, 2013. Said to be based on true events, the first 30 minutes of the movie about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden gives a distinct impression that the key initial leads came from the torturing of detainees. So false and misleading is this torture propaganda, that Senators Feinstein, Levin, and McCain wrote to Sony Pictures to ask that adjustments be made and even the Acting CIA Director Morrell had to distance the CIA from the film’s narrative position.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has denounced the film and there are many including me who urge it to be boycotted. The reason is that the American public who are kept ignorant of the details of the program and who have heard apologists for torture all these years saying torture works will find this false narrative consistent with the earlier false narratives. This big lie will in turn encourage acquiescence by Americans in their government torturing people in their names – even when it is illegal, immoral, and does not work.

More broadly, accountability for the high-level civilians who put in place this massive worldwide and useless torture regime remains elusive in our system: with devastating consequences. I learned last week that American efforts around the world to encourage the development in other countries of strong domestic accountability institutions for horrific human rights abuses, war crimes, and things of that kind are hampered. Our efforts are hampered due to our inaction in seeking criminal accountability for our own high-level civilians who put in place a massive worldwide torture regime over the past 12 years.

This becomes particularly relevant as we learn this week that Mr. John Brennan has been nominated to head the CIA by the Obama Administration. A twenty five year veteran of the CIA, Brennan favored rendition and use of enhanced interrogation techniques (other than waterboarding) and is clearly implicated in the torture regime put in place in the Bush Administration. While he is no doubt a wonderful civil servant, father and husband, his role in the torture regime remains a taint on him, and on this country, that should not be glossed over out of some misguided sense of expediency, false patriotism, or relish for payback.

Exposing to the light the illegal, immoral, ineffective and counterproductive torture regime is essential. It is also relevant for all cases brought in American courts that have been dismissed to protect state secrets as well as in the 9/11 military commission hearings at Guantanamo that I am observing. An ineffective and counterproductive method should not be allowed to be hidden from the American people by protective orders that block media access. Contrast this official silence, with the experience in the court-martial of Bradley Manning in which media reports on his treatment in detention have been to some extent permitted and we have been allowed to hear his reaction to his treatment.

All of these torture related actions demean America and we are not in the business of allowing the government to demean the country we love.

We should all resist by 1) insisting on accountability for high-level civilians and military generals for their actions in the torture regime, 2) insisting on the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee Torture Report as is to the American people, 3) by holding meaningful public Senatorial hearings on the Brennan confirmation and 4) by the appointment of an independent prosecutor to seek accountability for the torturers in our intelligence and military. It is the least we can do to honor the sacrifice of our troops and to be consistent with American values that have served us well back to the time of then General George Washington.