It’s Hard to Get Past the Anger, Part V: Assessing the Damage

The Senate Intelligence Committee Torture Report is too big and complicated to address in a single post. Besides, WC is too angry right now to coherently discuss and analyze what the Report means to America and Americans. So WC will approach the issues in a series of shorter posts. This is Part V and, at least for now, the last.


Torture is a terrible and monstrous thing, as degrading and morally corrupting to those who practice it as any conceivable human activity including its moral twin, capital punishment.

– Charles Krauthammer, “The Truth About Torture,” December 2005

In his 2005, arch-conservative Krauthammer wrote an extended essay for The Weekly Standard in which he argued that despite being a “monstrous thing,” torture would be permissible in certain, very exacting circumstances. He worried, though, and at some length, that the evil djinn might get out of the bottle. He was right. It did. And the Senate Torture Report, as expurgated, censored, edited, redacted and incomplete as it is, absolutely and unequivocally confirms the CIA engaged in widespread, criminal torture to little purpose.

It’s time to assess the damage.

First, in the U.S. there is political polarization on the use of torture where before there was near-unanimity.

The use of illegal torture has become a partisan issue

The use of illegal torture has become a partisan issue

The United States didn’t need another partisan issue. And it is deeply disturbing that a majority of an avowedly conservative political party approves of waterboarding.

Second, torture apologists like unindicted war criminal and former Vice President Dick Cheney are dragging the national morality of the United States down to the level of Al Qaeda. Instead of measuring our conduct by the Constitution or national laws, he’d measure it by whether it is as bad as what Al Qaeda did to the U.S. on 9/11. “Is it any worse than murdering 3,000 innocent Americans? If not, then it’s just fine.” Chuck Todd, interviewing Cheney on Meet the Press, asked Cheney, “If 25% of the people we tortured were actually innocent, if we tortured some of them to death, is that okay. And the former Vice President of the greatest nation on earth, the beacon of liberty and justice for the world, said:

I have no problem with that so long as we meet our objective.

The thing about torture as an instrument of government policy is that it is incredibly corrosive to the society that tolerates it. It doesn’t just injure and maim the victims; it injures those who allow it. WC fears that the Bush-Cheney Administration, in its anger and humiliation after 9/11, launched the United States on a path away from our core values. It is indisputable that they adopted instruments of national policy that were prosecuted as war crimes by the U.S. and its allies after World War II.

If you think WC is indulging his tendency to hyperbole, consider this: would we accept that use of drones for assassination of American citizens abroad by the Obama Administration if we hadn’t had our moral anchors shifted by the Bush-Cheney torture policies?

CIA Director John Brennan has admitted the CIA Committed crimes: Brennan acknowledged that, “in a limited number of instances, agency officers used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent, and rightly should be repudiated by all.” That is, CIA officers went beyond the laughably flimsy legal justifications for the approved forms of torture, and inflicted even more horrific assaults. Why aren’t those persons who exceeded the claimed “legal” torture being prosecuted?

So far, the only CIA employee to go to jail because of the Bush-Cheney torture regime is John Kiriakou, who he is serving a 30-month sentence after being charged for his whistleblowing in 2008. “I believe I was prosecuted not for what I did but for who I am: a CIA officer who said torture was wrong and ineffective and went against the grain,” Kiriakou said in 2013. That’s what we have come to as a nation. The torturers skate; those who call them serve hard time.

And now the United States has an administrative agency in the CIA that is completely above the law. It can spy on Congress with impunity, and impede the Congressional oversight function. And that makes the CIA more power than the president. If the president breaks the law, he can be prosecuted and even impeached. If the CIA breaks the law, it can hide that fact, jail those who try to expose the illegality and even if it is exposed, escape any consequences. In 1975, for far less illegal conduct, the Church Committee was able to reign in the CIA. WC doesn’t see a Church Committee on the political horizon. The politial polarization WC identified earlier isn’t going away.

But until the American people can collectively recognize that the threats created by the CIA are every bit and even more serious than the threats created by terrorists, it’s only going to get worse. And that’s the greatest damage of all.

3 thoughts on “It’s Hard to Get Past the Anger, Part V: Assessing the Damage

  1. Thanks for writing this series of posts on torture. It has been a miserable read. I remember waking up at night early on in this debacle and thinking about the Guantanamo prisoners — knowing in my heart despite what we were being told, no good would come of this. What a horrible legacy of shame our children are inheriting … Nothing about torture is right.

  2. Tantrums, tiffs and terrorism; most all negative behaviors are avoidable with observance to Maslow’s Hierarchy and Applied Behavior Analysis. Recognizing antecedent events and applying nuanced interventions, viz genuine diplomacy derails the subject’s desire for using “attention seeking behaviors”. This is why all good behaviorists, and some heads of state, go to heaven. Preferably never the narcissists who exploit others’ negative behaviors for personal gain — So here’s to Dante’s Inferno.

    And may the sun stay silent.

  3. I too wish to express my appreciation for you taking the time to deconstruct the apologists.

    My only critique is that there’s no getting past it. Even should miracles happen and the war criminals be prosecuted, there’s no getting past it. There’s still the inherent blowback to look forward to and the permanent stain that brands our nation forever in the future.

    I can think of no other single purely political act that shames us more than this. Again, thanks for your work.

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