The Buck Stops With the Citizen: The Devastating On So Many Levels Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture Out Yesterday

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

The 6,000-page document, which was not released to the public, was adopted by Democrats over the objections of most of the committee’s Republicans. The outcome reflects the level of partisan friction that continues to surround the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other severe interrogation techniques four years after they were banned.

The report is the most detailed independent examination to date of the agency’s efforts to “break” dozens of detainees through physical and psychological duress, a period of CIA history that has become a source of renewed controversy because of torture scenes in a forthcoming Hollywood film, “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Officials familiar with the report said it makes a detailed case that subjecting prisoners to ­“enhanced” interrogation techniques did not help the CIA find Osama bin Laden and often were counterproductive in the broader campaign against al-Qaeda.

The committee chairman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein ­(D-Calif.), declined to discuss specific findings but released a written statement describing decisions to allow the CIA to build a network of secret prisons and employ harsh interrogation measures as “terrible mistakes.”

“I also believe this report will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should ever employ coercive interrogation techniques,” Feinstein said.

That conclusion has been disputed by high-ranking officials from the George W. Bush administration, including former vice president Richard B. Cheney and former CIA director Michael V. Hayden. Both of them argued that the use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other measures provided critical clues that helped track down bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader who was killed in a U.S. raid in Pakistan in May 2011.

Largely because of those political battle lines, Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee refused to participate in the panel’s three-year investigation of the CIA interrogation program, and most opposed Thursday’s decision.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the committee’s ranking Republican, said in a statement that the report “contains a number of significant errors and omissions about the history and utility of CIA’s detention program.” He also noted that the review was done “without interviewing any of the people involved.” Washington Post, December 13, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/report-finds-harsh-cia-interrogations-ineffective/2012/12/13/a9da510a-455b-11e2-9648-a2c323a991d6_story.html

The “mistakes were made” leitmotif has now changed to “terrible mistakes” were made as stated by Senator Feinstein.  Senator Chambliss for his part takes another tack to say “mistakes were made” in the drafting of the devastating report of the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

Said 6000 page report based on the review of millions of documents, uncounted dollars spent, and having taken three years comes to a conclusion that ordinary citizen like me came to years ago – torture is a crime and does not work.

The report is classified but I bet you that a copy of it is in the hands of the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and probably at least one overseas newspaper.  When the newspapers called as a courtesy to say they had the report, I suspect that high-level people are calling the editors of those papers laying out all kinds of arguments on why the release of the report should be delayed.  And another group of editors face a Pentagon Papers or Watergate moment that this time covers both powerful Democrats and Republicans in the Executive and the Legislature, the intelligence agencies, the courts, and the whole national security class who are threatening them with no more access if they report.  These editors also face the information about the collusion with the intelligence agencies in this torture of all types of people in governments around the world who, up until now, have been able to keep themselves hidden under the mantra of “protecting sources and methods.”

The US v. Reynolds lie that sparked the state secrets doctrine has now come full circle.  With a report showing that the most secret sources and methods led to a failed and counterproductive interrogation program that took place across the world, we see that what has been sought to be done for all these years is to protect sources and methods for a devastatingly flawed program that remains a crime and that was also counterproductive. 

After all that has happened since 9/11, including the use of tortured evidence to argue for the War in Iraq, I can not think of a more damning admission by the United States government that has severe consequences for our credibility domestically and worldwide.

But, I am the ordinary citizen here – the one who  invokes his right to the truth. 

While understanding the foreign dimensions of the impact of this report, what I seethe with is the righteous anger of the ordinary citizen with the Constitutional order that so betrayed and sullied America’s essence.  For nearly twelve long years ordinary Americans have been fed a pack of lies about torture, people have been tortured in our name ostensibly to defend us, and the craven souls at the heart of this effort never had the strength of character to step away from their cowardly bluster to tell us the truth – the torture was counterproductive.  To do so was to cause them to reveal themselves as the panicked souls who were willing to attack human dignity out of a need to hurt someone – to put pain in the body of someone – because of their own incompetence in protecting us by the normal means readily available for the most powerful country in the world.  These middle schoolers with security clearances (a description I recently heard of intelligence boys) are pitiful.

I seethe with the righteous anger of the ordinary citizen at having been played, duped, and manipulated for twelve long years in an effort to keep from my eyes the truth about the depths of the depravity of our leadership, of the depths of their superficiality, and lack of understanding of the meaning of what the American experiment is about.  These leaders spit on the shining light on the hill, falling into a darkness of the soul that is medieval in  its origin, and the exact kind of perversion that mankind has been painfully seeking to overcome in ourselves through instruments like our Constitution, international human rights and humanitarian law, and the renunciation of the use of force for political ends.

All through our heirarchies, in our universities (Eric Posner, Adrian Vermeule, Jack Goldsmith, John Yoo), in our courts (Easterbrook and the Seventh Circuit en banc, the Ninth Circuit en banc, the Fourth Circuit (Judge Sentelle and company), the DC Circuit (Kavanaugh, Brown and company), the Second Circuit (Judge Heller giving the CIA a pass on the torture tapes), and the Supreme Court in its denial of cert to appeals made by so many about the inhumanity of the American treatment of them – all through them the perversion of our legal process has been allowed to be done out of a misguided sense of duty that protected the crime and the incompetence from the public’s eye.  Now, the breadth and depth of that betrayal of what is the essence of the jurisdiction to adjudicate in our system of government is laid bare in a still classified report.

And, oh the apologists, the David Rivkin’s and the Jeremy Rabkin’s and all the others over these years who have been willing apologists for the torture.  Let us think of the hearings with the Senator Cornyn’s and the Senator Graham’s and the Senator Kyl’s and the Senator Pat Leahy’s and the Senator Imhoff’s and the Representative Dale Rohrbacher’s and the Representative Pete Hoekstra’s and the Representative Jane Harman’s – the whole muttering group of people to whom we entrust the duty to oversee the intelligence community and who abdicated that role.

We can think of the CIA heads like George Tenet, Porter Goss (we can read about him in Gaddhafi’s ransacked files), Michael Hayden, all into the present.  We can think about the Attorney Generals John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales, Michael Mukasey, and Eric Holder and their enabling of the torture and its hiding from Americans. 

Give this citizen a goddamn independent prosecutor!

We can think of the National Security Advisors like Stephen Hadley, Condoleeza Rice and their ambitious lieutenants like Elliott Abrams and John Bellinger.  We can think of the fear struck in these people’s hearts by Phillip Zelikow writing a modest memo about  the illegality of an ineffective criminal torture program.

And, less we lose them from view, we should remember the Dan Levin’s and the Stephen Bradbury’s and of course the Cully Stimson’s and the Matthew Waxman’s and the John Rizzo’s (oh yes especially this one here) and the Jay Bybee’s, and of course those old reliables – David Addington and William Haynes III – under what rock are they all hiding today as the scales are lifted from the eyes of all about the program they nurtured into perverse existence.

And, less we try to lay this off on malfeasance of these suits, we should go into the military and look at those retired generals like General Miller who blocked the full review requested by the JAG’s or that guy who went in to Gitmoize everything and who ended up getting decorated.

And, let us think of the doctors in the BSCT teams that spent their time betraying their oaths with their advice on how to “exploit” detainees – advice that was found to be nonsense.  And let us think of the state licensing authorities for those doctors who have on and on done everything to prevent accountability for these doctors in New York, Ohio, Texas, and Louisiana.  How about it doctors of the dark side?  How are you feeling today with all the effort you put into a program that was counterproductive? 

To all of you, hope that betrayal of America felt good to do.

And, at the top, we have former President Bush the man who lied us into the War in Iraq and Vice President Dick Cheney whose disdain for human dignity is only matched by the incompetence of the “going to the dark side” imagery with which he seeks to dazzle us.  And now we have President Obama and Vice President Biden – as we use to say in the 60’s “Which side are you on, brother?  Which side are you on?”

A citizen can not know in writing these words why the muse asks him to write them, but a citizen is able to feel the contradictions inherent in a system of governance that for nearly twelve long years keeps from view its most horrendous acts not because of any reason other than to hide from the citizen its incompetence in protecting him over so many years.

The Senate Armed Service Committee tried in 2008 to help us understand the stupidity of the program and its origins.  Pfc Darby tried to show us in 2004 that we were in a bad place that was not consistent with the training we seek of our wonderful soldiers.  Alberto Mora tried in 2002 to play the bureacucratic game to tell that this was insane what was happening.  William Taft tried in 2002 to convince that we were going down the wrong path.  All faced the smugness of the middle schoolers with security clearances who demonstrated through their inattention to principle their devastating lack of commitment to American ideals.

So, we wake on this December 14, 2012, knowing that there are 6000 pages of a report that exists in the world that relates in ever more detail the breadth and depth of the massive torture campaign that was put in place with money no object and with no results.

No wonder, the usual torture apologists voices are silent.  Mark Thiessen where are you? In your office at the Washington Post trying to find a way to spin this?  Or those wonderful people on the Wall Street Journal editorial page so quick to do apologia for torture.  I am sure you received a copy of the 6000 page report and are going through it trying to find an angle.

Hey, Jose Rodriguez, how are those book sales going?  I would prefer that people buy Ali Soufan’s book as the guy who warned us so eloquently on 60 minutes, but the nattering media did not allow him the respect that we all know now is due him.  If someone should get the Medal of Freedom it certainly is Ali Soufan.

As to all those who want to look forward and not backward, brothers and sisters, we need to look  backward and look deeply.  We need to ask at the 9/11 military commission to revise the Protective Order No 1 and let us all hear about the awful things done in our name that were criminal and counterproductive.  If the stuff does not work, what purpose in hiding it except to keep some middle schoolers with security clearances from facing the light of accountability.

I think of all those soldiers who are doing the bidding of the higherups and who are reading today about this monstrous system in place in which they participated and which did not keep us safer and was actually counterproductive.  I think of their service and the betrayal of them by the higherups.

Damn you torturers and enablers of torturer!  Give this citizen a goddamn independent prosecutor to clean this mess up,  to  follow all the way through, and to bring down this perverse house of cards like Hercules so we can get on with the business of protecting America – real protection – from its enemies.

The sad thing is that all of this played right into  what these Al Qaeda types were thinking – we fell for the game hook, line, and sinker.  These chumps let America be played for a chump.  I feel like a citizen who has been sucker punched by his own government at the instigation of someone playing a more sophisticated game then our leaders were capable of understanding.

We are better than this and should bring light to show how much better we are.  We need to bring light in each aspect of this for it is in the forces of light that we can combat our enemies – the battle for ideas.  But, I am not sure that our leadership has sufficient belief to not be cynical purveyors of cruelty while espousing national  security.  I just am not sure. 

For nearly twelve years, they have been willing to dupe us – but now we see in this devastating report the end of that beginning and we now move to the next phase in this long twilight struggle for human dignity.

We, as citizens, need to express the righteous anger to our representatives.  We should not just shake our heads in  dismay and acquiesce saying “What can you do?”  We should insist as citizens that all of our powers that be – that our national security establishment – be shaken to its foundations, that those who have retired be brought back to serve their penance for their betrayal of us.

No doubt I am a lunatic and a romantic.  Yet, I think back to those abolitionists who faced the scourge of slavery and I take my strength from their faith in the American project and their efforts to end that scourge on the American soul.  Together, abolitionists of torture, let us work to bring our hierarchy to understand its accountability and duplicity toward us as ordinary citizens.  Yes, they have the levers of power and can use the levers of media to serenade us with false songs like Zero Dark Thirty to make us think that what we know is not truth.  But, let us not be swayed by false prophets as we soldier on to perfect this Union.

The President has spoken of the vital role of the citizen.  So this is a citizen saying to the President “The Buck Stops With the Citizen” and we are insisting that you clean house – root and branch – of all those torturers.  No one is indispensable in this life – not a single one of us.  And certainly not any of those torturers that this devastating report unmasks.