senate_large_seal200px-CIA.svgBelow is my column today in USA Today on the torture report. This is the slightly longer version that ran on the Internet.

As Shakespeare wrote in the Merchant of Venice, “truth will out.” The release of the report of the Senate Intelligence Committee was the long-awaited truth about one of this country’s most shameful chapters. Like water, truth has a way of finding its way out even against the determined obstruction. However, the question is what truth came out this week in the hundreds of pages of highly disturbing, and often disgusting, details of the “enhanced interrogation” program.

There are obvious “truths” about waterboarding being a crime and how torture is a poor vehicle for obtaining intelligence.

Then there are truths that are less obvious but equally clear in the pages of this report. Here are three such inconvenient truths that emerge from the Torture Report:

Truth #1: The CIA proved it is immune from legal restraints

As damaging as this report is to the reputation of the Agency, it reaffirms the underlying assumption that made the torture program possible: CIA officials enjoy effective immunity from the law.

The report details crimes that run gamut of the criminal code. It starts with torture itself that is not just a crime but a war crime. However, the report also details – and names some of those responsible – for destroying evidence, lying to Congress and obstructing investigations into the torture program. Former Director Michael V. Hayden is cited for actively telling employees to lie and for personally giving false information to Congress . CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin was expressly called on the Senate floor by Sen. Dianne Feinstein for giving false information to Congress. CIA General Counsel Scott Muller in 2003 is quoted as lying to the White House about the existence of videotapes on the interrogations. The report details false statement after false statement given by past directors and high-ranking officials to Congress, to the White House and to the American people. It also details how, after CIA were told about inquiries into the legality of the torture program, officials promptly ordered the destruction of video tapes to get rid of the evidence.

Yet, what did all of that prove? It proved that the CIA could commit all of these crimes, even war crimes, and not face a single federal charge. Not one. The only thing more chilling than the torture carried out in our name was the fact that it was carried out with utter impunity.

Truth #2: The Justice Department First Facilitated Torture And Then Obstructed Its Prosecution

One of the least discussed “truths” in this study is the ignoble role played by the Justice Department. During the Bush Administration, figures like Jay Bybee and John Yoo issued the infamous “torture memos” that gave legal cover for the programs. The only thing more tortured than the subjects was the legal authority used to justify their abuse. However, the report also details how the Bush and Obama administrations obstructed the investigation at every turn. Six months after Congress began to investigate the program and was demanding to interview key players, Attorney General Eric Holder suddenly announced the Justice Department’s own investigation under John Durham. As soon as the Justice Department investigation was announced, virtually every key player refused to speak with congressional investigators in light of the internal investigation. As expected, Durham later found that not a single crime could be found. Not in the destruction of evidence. Not in the false statements. Certainly not in the torture itself.

Holder and the Justice Department proved as much enablers as did their predecessors in the Bush administration. Soon after taking office, President Obama shocked many by going to the CIA and assuring employees that, despite his recognition of the torture, no one would be prosecuted. Holder and the Justice Department played as great a role in fulfilling that pledge as Justice did in facilitating the program itself.

Truth #3: Torture remains a question of effectiveness for many in government

Perhaps the most chilling truth is that the CIA and key American leaders continue to deny the very premise of both international and domestic laws. The key response of the CIA was to insist that the program was “effective” – the very rationale that is expressly rejected in the Convention Against Torture and other laws. It does not matter if torture was useful or productive. It is a war crime. We should know. We wrote that language saying that no nation can justify torture due to “exceptional circumstances” or effectiveness. Yet, the very agency that committed these crimes has continued to argue that those crimes were productive exercises.

The current debate over whether torture works reveals how far we have fallen as a nation in our view of this war crime. Not only does our embrace of torture threaten our own soldiers and citizens abroad, we have lost the moral high ground internationally. The truth is that torture could easily return to the United States so long as it is viewed as a practical question instead of a moral one.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.


  1. I have little sympathy for those that were on an actual battlefield against us but most were not.

    See….this is the problem. People keep trying to equate the “war” and the terrorism existing now to official wars in the past.

    Wars where the enemy wears a uniform that indicates who they are.. Is affiliated with a country. Where there has been a declaration of war from their country against ours. Wars where there actually ARE battlefields. Fields and places where two official enemies meet and try to defeat each other. THOSE wars haven’t been conducted for decades and…..there may not ever be that type of warfare again. To think so and conduct ourselves so… to live in the past and to live in a fantasy world.

    THIS is not that kind of war. The enemy terrorist can be anybody, anywhere, dressed in any kind of clothing. They aren’t wearing uniforms that says..”Hey. Here is a Nazi, American GI, British soldier. It can be ANY..BODY. They can work at Fort Hood. He or she may work along side of you. May be the clerk in the local 7-11. The so called “battlefield” can be your local shopping mall, the airport, the tree lighting ceremony in Times Square.

    Enemy combatants can even include little children or a kindly looking grandmother with bomb strapped to their bodies.

    Even if they are not actually on “the battlefield” those who are working underground, behind the scenes, providing bombs, giving information to the enemy and facilitating terrorism are JUST as guilty of being enemy combatants and should be treated as such.

    If it takes some persuading to get information to save US. Our families. Our military. OUR lives and country…….I don’t have a problem with this. It is survival.

    Do I want people who enjoy this type of work to be doing it. Of course not. Do some people go to far and need to be punished for it. Yes. These types of actions should only be for the most dire circumstances and dire need.

    Is it actually torture. I’m not sure. Waterboarding likely yes., but many of those other actions don’t seem to be on a level of the Iron Maiden or the Rack.

    Would I rather not “persuade” someone to give the information. Yes. But then to know that my reservations have cause the deaths of thousands of my fellow citizens. I couldn’t live with that………… It is survival.

    It is like the classic moral and ethical dilemma of the people on the train tracks. Would you send the train down one track and kill one person on it, if you knew it would save the 5 people on the other track? Those are the only two choices you have.

  2. Olly: If you really want to understand how groups like ISIS were created watch the documentary “No End In Sight”. The documentary is almost exclusively reported by actual members of the Bush Administration assessing what went wrong in Iraq and the Middle East. It’s a great historical piece.

    Most people that were tortured by the United States were never on any battlefield and had no connection to terrorism. I have little sympathy for those that were on an actual battlefield against us but most were not.

  3. not sure if I posted this here but esp for Paul et al who think torture is fine and dandy, here the words from someone who experienced it firsthand, not experimental but for 5 years and to this day is physically impaired as a result.


    1. leejcaroll – first, I am against torture. Second, I do not think water boarding qualifies as torture. Third, I think anything said by Senator McCain qualifies as torture. His suffering comes from the injuries suffered when shot down and then not treated by the North Vietnamese, not from his torture, all though he was tortured and he did sign a confession of guilt.

  4. I changed my mind, this should be posted in every thread; especially those drawing a moral equivalence between the United States and the Islamic State.

    This is a great article and it captures quite well the character of this blog. I won’t post this in every thread but it sure would apply to most:

    “The next time you find yourself reeling from some “outrageous” argument made by someone on the right, it might help to have Francisco’s voice somewhere in the back of your head, saying “There are no evil thoughts except one: the refusal to think.” If you listen to that voice, perhaps some day you’ll join us. Life is a lot more fun when it is not a sin to doubt.”

  5. Send his family a Christmas card. And then send cards to the FAMILIES of the thousands tortured and killed in the name of Allah, just this year alone!

  6. Ross,
    I would say ISIS has set the base standard for humanity. The Nazi’s set the standard for civilized societies; it’s a long slope and we are not even close. This doesn’t mean I support the use of torture; I just don’t believe we take anything off the table for our national security.

  7. Olly:

    You made some great points but today the U.S. has assassinated U.S. citizens on foreign soil without charge, trail or conviction and also tortured U.S. citizens. This doesn’t include the deaths and destruction of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil from blacklisting – which is not included in the report.

    We are at the bottom of the slippery slope, not the top!

  8. Nice try, Jeff. You are illogical and ideological. I have ignored you in the past. But, I’m coming off a nice vacation and thought I would give you a bit of my time. But all resources, including time, are limited. You are not worthy of my time. You ruin my after Mexico buzz.

  9. “What makes me uncomfortable with torture is the fear of establishing a precedent. Experience shows that government will tend to expand its power whenever it is left unchecked. If you let them mistreat one very small category of prisoners, someone will eventually try to apply those techniques to others. But if this is a step down a slippery slope, it’s a very small step, and one that has not in fact led to a plunge down the slope. I think it’s acceptable to take the attitude that the government can get away with this sort of thing in a few very special cases, when the threat is urgent and the public is very angry—but our tolerance will wane quickly as we return to normal times. Which is precisely what happened here, since the “enhanced interrogation” program was ended long ago, under the Bush administration.”

  10. The most important part affecting your family was omitted from the torture report altogether: Post 9/11 Blacklisting of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil (which can be lethal).

    Past example: In the 1970’s the FBI (and other agencies) blacklisted Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr. and tried to get him to commit suicide. Today that program is on steroids.

    Today how many innocent Americans have been killed, financially ruined or harmed? It’s Classified and not in the report.

  11. The people we tortured did not die, and were involved in terrorism. Women and children killed by drones do die[obvious to most!] and are not involved in terrorism. The difference seems blatantly obvious to me. But, I use both sides of my brain.

    1. Nick:

      Let me give you a little help in order to clear up your thinking. 1. A person subject to a drone attack is armed and/or poses a ongoing threat to U.S. interests. A hand-cuffed detainee in our custody poses no threat whatsoever. See the difference? 2. The children who die as a result of a drone attack were unintentional; they were not targeted. Torture is intentional. Get it?

      BTW, one person did die in our custody from exposure. And we did mistakenly interrogate 2 detainees who were working for us as informants- they were innocent as children.

  12. If you care about your loved ones, you won’t embolden your enemy by telling them what you won’t do; kind of like putting up signs saying “This is a Gun-Free Zone”. What next, not allowing people to keep watch dogs in their yards? Wouldn’t it be torture to allow Fido to gnaw on a burglar until help arrived?

    You go ahead and put those redlines down and tell your loved ones they are much safer because you won’t torture the people that are torturing them. I on the other hand will make it clear that everything is on the table. Which house are they going to choose?

  13. Jeff, Torture is bad. Droning and bragging about it, killing innocents, is much worse. No innocents are killed w/ torture. Obama fell in love w/ drones because it’s neat and clean. Gathering NEEDED intelligence is the hard and dirty work that helps prevent future attacks.

    On your personal attack. There are people for whom I care dearly what they think. Let’s agree that merely reading someone on a blog should never elevate someone to that lofty status. The people who make my list would all fit @ my dining room table. I imagine all those on you list would fit into your Yugo.

    1. Nick:

      I am not a fan of droning, but I am amused that the commentators at Fox cannot fathom the moral difference between collateral damage and torture. As Upton Sinclair has noted, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

  14. “Torture does not provide the best chance to produce actionable intelligence.”

    BFM, that is absolutely unprovable, because while it does not always work; it does work. And, that’s beside the point. What separates us from the barbarians IS the fact we WILL place limits on our conduct of war. There is no difference between telling our enemy we won’t torture and we won’t put combat troops on the ground. It has the same detrimental effect.

    I believe in corporal punishment but that does not mean it is the first tactic I use to affect my child’s behavior. It does not mean I will ever spank my child; but it IS a possibility that my child understands. What’s the saying, “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime”.

    In our ‘civilized’ prosecution of war, we don’t apply force (theoretically) that is unnecessary. We escalate our force as the situation demands. While civilized, it is also predictable. Bad guys do bad things. Stupid bad guys, like are often written about on this blog, do bad things stupidly. It makes stopping them rather easy. Smart bad guys on the other hand follow their own rules, which are designed to avoid the force against them. Unconventional enemy combatants require unconventional tactics and different rules of engagement. Redlines don’t work for barbarians.

    1. “that is absolutely unprovable, because while it does not always work; it does work. And, that’s beside the point. ”

      Nonsense. Of course it is provable which technique produces the highest probability of actionable intelligence. It might be unethical to conduct the experiment.

      But we already have solid data on which techniques are more likely to produce the best, most reliable results – and that is not torture.

      The fact that torture might produce some truth once in a while does not by any stretch indicate that torture is give the best chance, the highest probability to get actionable intelligence.

      In war as in many endeavors all you have are the probabilities. When your relatives are on the line what you want more than anything is to give them the best chance to make it home sound in body and mind.

      That best chance has nothing to do with torture.

      Torture is lousy at producing actionable intelligence.

      If you care about you loved ones you will demand that torture not be used.

  15. Davidm:

    Is raping a detainee’s daughter in his presence a coercive interrogation technique which you would not disapprove? According to your definition, it certainly is not torture, for there is no lasting physical injury and no pain; indeed, she might even enjoy it.

  16. Obama has taken the chicken, girly way out of this debate. He kills all terrorists w/ drones. This cowardly approach leaves us w/ little intelligence on upcoming plans.

  17. Over 60% of Americans support torture. When we get hit again, that figure will go into the 70th percentile, or higher. So, it is incumbent upon the ilk of Feinstein to rewrite history and say torture does not work and that it played no part in Obama getting bin Laden. ALL people who have the facts, even those opposed to torture, say it helped our cause. It’s INSANE to say it doesn’t work. Does it work all the time. No. Does it work on all people. No. Does it work some of the time and with some people. Why, of course it does.

    Feinstein has shown to be one of our more Orwellian politicians. This “report” is her masterpiece. We will get hit again. We will torture again. I get sick to my stomach thinking about it. But, I am willing to play Sgt. Schultz regarding torture.

    1. I suppose there are 2 kinds of people in this world- those that torture and those that don’t. I don’t know why I don’t think like you Nick, but I am glad I don’t. I hope I never will…

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