Below 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.