The CIA Torture Report: The Errors of Back-Ending Disclosure
This morning, with the release of the executive summary of what has now been called the “CIA Torture Report,” the United States makes a good faith effort at coming clean on “enhanced interrogation” tactics used during the Bush Administration.
This is a particularly nuanced situation, especially for persons of a libertarian persuasion. The gut reaction is: good, these things should come to light and, hopefully, never be undertaken by a civilized nation again. The backing for opposing torture is that, as has been recorded in numerous studies (and historical evidence), torture is not a reliable means of ascertaining intelligence. Additionally, though temporarily cathartic for a nation reeling from attacks and in fear, the long-term foreign policy ramifications of torture are patent.
Now, there are some who will quickly jump to saying opposition of CIA practices and the demand for the same to be in the open will defang the intelligence process and impede national security. This contention is correct. The CIA and the military should have latitude to act in the defense of the nation. Some of these actions must be taken covertly. This is not a controversial position. There is no reason to disclose battle formations to the enemy. That said, when the pendulum swings overwhelmingly toward secrecy and, when such secrets are so offensive to a free society, the benefit of that secrecy is overcome.
We should never have to ask ourselves: is this being kept secret because of its sensitive nature or because it is so offensive to a free people that we would be ashamed to know what our government is doing?
These concerns addressed, I’ll turn to the actual release of the executive summary of the “CIA Torture Report.” Though it is easy to jump on this as the Democratic Senate’s last insult to the Bush Administration, the calamity that will, no doubt, erupt across the volatile regions of the world as a result of the release, should be blamed, in large part, on the American media. Clearly, the name of the report is not the “Torture Report.” Naming it such is the ultimate attempt to simply get views online and create sensationalism among the American people. The consequence of this pandering to the lowest common denominator while peddling half-truths and conclusory statements unsupported by facts is that such will be seized on by enemies of the United States and hurt American interests both at home and abroad.
So: should the report be released? Yes. The American people deserve to know what their government was doing in their name. Should the report be released with fanfare and as a parting shot from the Democrat Senate? No. Myriad examples of even benign reports fueling attacks against American and Western civilian and military targets abroad abound. Release of a report that underscores and, to some degree, justifies the contempt for American activity in the Middle East and other places in the world at a time of increased destabilization on the global stage is tremendously irresponsible. Disclosures, while warranted, should have been made as a slow and steady stream of accountability reports over the course of the last decade. Effective back-ending these reports is callously playing politics with the lives of Americans abroad and at home.
To be clear, the American people are entitled to every piece of information in the report. However, the manner of the reports and the information being presented is absolutely wrong in this case.
As a brief diversion: it is distressing that the White House is lauding this release. While, again, the release of the information is, technically, correct, the White House is being utterly disingenuous. The report details the actions of the CIA primarily during the previous administration. Thus, the repeated violations of international law and national sovereignty (as well as direct violations of the due process rights of American citizens abroad) of the Obama administration are whitewashed.
I am confident that there are some out there who think that this disclosure today is the correct check on intelligence and military abuse. Some may even think the reactions that will, undoubtedly, boil up across the globe will be justified. However, the irresponsibility of exposing both innocent civilians as well as American servicemen to harm is unforgivable.
To the Senate and to the CIA: there was a better way to do this.