Scattered Thoughts on the “Torture Report”

Dennis Sanders

Dennis is the pastor of a small Protestant congregation outside St. Paul, MN and also a part-time communications consultant. A native of Michigan, you can check out his writings over on Medium and subscribe to his Substack newsletter on religion and politics called Polite Company.  Dennis lives in Minneapolis with his husband Daniel.

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69 Responses

  1. nevermoor says:

    Just so I’m clear:

    1. You oppose torture
    2. You recognize that GOP is turning into a dehumanization cheering section (or team “shut up, America is Awesome!
    3. Democrats generally agree with you on #1.
    4. That makes Democrats “incredibily naive” and the report is “partisanship” that “offers no way forward.”

    In other words, BSDI and GOP can never be criticized without a shot at the other side.

    In reality, the report provides a critical service – getting truth out there that no one knew a few days ago – about exactly how depraved the Bush administration was/allowed the CIA to be. Has our country done horrible things in the past? Sure. Have we sexually assaulted prisoners, tortured them to death, tortured them AFTER we believed we got all possible intel, and tortured them even though we knew them to be innocent?Report

    • Dennis Sanders in reply to nevermoor says:

      @nevermoor I’m not going to pretend that I am not biased. I have opinions. I lean conservative. But the point here is that I think the report was released without hearing all sides of the issue, even those I would disagree with. It also never offered recommendations to reform the CIA. If the CIA did all these things, then there is need for serious reform, not just the sacking of the CIA head. But none of that was offered. The point of any airing of offenses has to lead to some kind of restoration, otherwise we will all be back here a few years or decades from now.

      This was a major report something that should have been on par with South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I think we got a lot of truth with very little reconciliation.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Dennis Sanders says:

        Apparently you aren’t terribly familiar with the purges under the Bush Administration, where mostly Conservative Republicans got fired en-masse for disagreeing with the administration.

        Still, a lot of folks ducked their heads, and muttered under their breaths. The CIA is not filled with torture-happy folks. It’s quite possible for an organization to reform itself, particularly when they recognize exactly how far over the line they’ve been (and put that in writing during the time they were over the line). I remember seeing former CIA putting together recommendations ages ago (while bush was still in office).

        It is my understand that the Executive Branch has already issued new guidelines. Perhaps someone ought to assess their effectiveness.

        If what they presented was truth, then you’re advocating they call known liars to the committee. What light does that shed, other than their own rationalizations for exceeding their purview?Report

      • Mark J in reply to Dennis Sanders says:

        Dennis, your rank partisianslip is showing. This wan’t meant to be a “truth and reconciliation” report. This was the first step only — a report on what happened.

        You fault the report writers for not going beyond their mandate. Which is just silly and nothing but a reason for you to hate on the Dems.

        It wasn’t the job of the report writers to make recommendations. That is the job of congress. This was an investigation into whether or not there was reason to proceed. There is. We have the truth (perhaps), now we can proceed with the reconciliation.

        This was only partisan to the degree the the GOP really, really didn’t want this report released. And if we had waited until the new Republican senate took over in Jan, it never would have seen the light of day.Report

      • Dave in reply to Dennis Sanders says:

        Yeah, Dennis is a rank partisan. And I’m 8 feet tall.

        Disagree with him all you want but he’s far from a rank partisan IMO. You ought to see my Facebook feed.Report

      • nevermoor in reply to Dennis Sanders says:


        I know you lean conservative, but when your only complaint against the Dems is that they should have done what they did, but also more other things that they haven’t done (at least yet), it makes your BSDI garbage look particularly weak (as others have noted down-thread). It’s ok to praise your political opponents when they do something good.

        I don’t think anyone can know what the long-term effect of the report will be, but right now it feels unlikely that there won’t be one.

        What “sides” needed to be consulted? The public summary reports facts, and there don’t seem to be any denials of those facts in anyone’s response.Report

  2. greginak says:

    In many debates there is no non-political view. This is one of those. Is politics that D’s pushed for release of the report….of course that is part of. Of course transparency and putting information on the public record can be politics and a good idea. But holding off the release was just as much politics. If you are for the report coming out than taking a swipe at D’s for politics doesn’t make any sense. You are for it coming out: good.Report

  3. Mike Schilling says:

    If something is ineffective, then it wouldn’t be used.

    That’s an awfully sweeping statement. Sticking with just things related to fighting, how often has saturation bombing been used? How often has it caused an enemy to surrender? The purpose of 9/11 was to warn the United States to stay out of Muslim affairs. How well did that work? How many football coaches, in the face of some fairly easily calculated odds, punt on fourth down with the game almost over, hoping to get the ball back? Honestly, people do dumb things all the time, and rationalize why they’re not dumb just as often.Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      +1 on this. Without trying to be too harsh, Dennis, I think that’s a naive statement. There’s a bit of a sadistic streak in many humans, maybe most. People want torture to work because it’s simultaneously a punishment of (alleged) bad guys. And when people want to believe something, they’ll continue believing despite the evidence.

      And I get your point about why to focus on morality instead of effectiveness, but I think the morality argument has no certainty of success, either. You can’t prove that it’s immoral, you just have to sway people to your moral viewpoint, and that’s a hard road.Report

      • morat20 in reply to James Hanley says:

        Believing torture works seems to be some weird mental quirk of humanity, no matter the proof against it.

        Perhaps it’s the tiniest remnants of empathy or conscience, filtering out — we want to believe it works, has worked, works SOMETIME because otherwise horrific, awful, horribly things have been done for no reason at all.

        Perhaps believing torture works is a salve, a way of saying “It was for a purpose” even if it was a purpose we loathed or hated, it wasn’t just sadism for sadism’s sake — not just unfiltered punishment of the worst sort.

        Which makes sense, because we seem to happily say our enemies torture for no reason but their subhuman, loathsome nature — yet when it comes to us or our allies, even when we can bring ourselves to call it torture we cling to the belief it was in service to a higher cause, a purpose.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to James Hanley says:

        of course torture works. it just doesn’t provide Reliable Information. If what you want is some “informed consent” (eh, heh), it’s relatively easy to obtain via torture. People will say yes to anything if you break them enough. Thing is, that’s a two edged sword — people will do ANYTHING to make the pain go away.Report

    • Dan Miller in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      I think the crucial thing here is to define what is meant by torture “working”. Producing accurate and actionable intelligence may not be its forte, but it can still have other functions. Noah Millman, writing at the American Conservative, has a really excellent blog post about why we torture. An excerpt:

      I’ve written before about the overwhelming fear that afflicted the country in the wake of 9-11, and how, perversely, exaggerating the severity of the threat from al Qaeda helped address that fear, because it made it acceptable to contemplate more extreme actions in response. If al Qaeda was really just a band of lunatics who got lucky, then 3,000 died because, well, because that’s the kind of thing that can happen. If al Qaeda was the leading edge of a worldwide Islamo-fascist movement with the real potential to destroy the West, then we would be justified in nuking Mecca in response. Next to that kind of response, torture seems moderate.

      Willingness to torture became, first within elite government and opinion-making circles, then in the culture generally, and finally as a partisan GOP talking point, a litmus test of seriousness with respect to the fight against terrorism. That – proving one’s seriousness in the fight – was its primary purpose from the beginning, in my view. It was only secondarily about extracting intelligence. It certainly wasn’t about instilling fear or extracting false confessions – these would not have served American purposes. It was never about “them” at all. It was about us. It was our psychological security blanket, our best evidence that we were “all-in” in this war, the thing that proved to us that we were fierce enough to win.


      • Mike Schilling in reply to Dan Miller says:

        Willingness to torture became […] a litmus test of seriousness

        Yeah, that’s it exactly. The argument was that we all know that torture works and the only question is whether you have the balls to do it.Report

      • morat20 in reply to Dan Miller says:

        It didn’t help that at times it seemed the “Very Serious People” of Washington (reporters, politicians, pundits) all seemed to have recently binge-watched 24.

        There were times when I wondered if policy wasn’t being made based on whether it worked for Jack Bauer.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Dan Miller says:

        I just watched Cheney’s Fox interview about the report and, while I know “shorter” is discouraged here:

        Shorter Cheney: We all know that torture works and the only question is whether you have the balls to do it.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Dan Miller says:

        That – proving one’s seriousness in the fight – was its primary purpose from the beginning, in my view. It was only secondarily about extracting intelligence.

        Rachel Maddow has been harping on an interesting point for a few days, namely, that the torture program was *extremely* poorly operated.

        We tortured two informants of ours (Which rather indicates we had no controls *at all* about who we tortured.) and we had multiple repeated examples of people being tortured with apparently no end goal, as in, there was literally no information we wanted from them.

        This is because, as has other pointed out, we do not torture in this country, and hence we apparently have *no* idea whatsoever to operate a torture program.

        People talk about this report demonstrated that torture does not provide actual intelligence, but that’s not what it really shows. Torture probably doesn’t provide that, but, the thing is, we apparently *weren’t trying to get intelligence* in many cases.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Dan Miller says:

        if one assumes that one will be releasing the prisoners at some point, it may be sensible to preserve the intelligence contact by torturing them. to do otherwise would be to reveal the leak.

        … i dont’ think the bush admin was this competent. They fired the competent Republicans,after all.Report

  4. DensityDuck says:

    “I’d like to know how torturing someone isn’t immoral. I’d like to see my fellow conservatives have a little twinge of conscience on this issue.”

    It is immoral, and it should never have happened.

    Next question is, what do you figure we should do about it? Go kill ourselves? Sounds a bit extreme but if you want to go first I’m right behind you.

    “Or are some senators throwing the CIA under the bus? ”

    It is entirely possible, given Dianne Feinstein’s degraded mental state, that she honestly believes that she was not briefed on what was actually happening and whether it was doing anything useful; and that she honestly believes that when she said “continue with the interrogations” she had not been advised that she was consenting to torture.Report

  5. NobAkimoto says:

    Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?

    I throw this out there as a general thing. If a throwaway line in Leviticus is supposedly so important, why is Genesis 18:25, perhaps the only time in the entire Biblical canon that a mortal chastises the Almighty for acting unjustly, not to be regarded as even more important?

    Note that even in spite of all the hand-wringing and defensive posturing shown by Chambliss and co. on the “minority dissent”, the minority could not, in fact, argue with one of the findings that the CIA basically lied about the brutality of their techniques:

    They didn’t even try to fight that one. Why? Because substantively speaking, there was no defense available.Report

  6. Freeman says:

    As far as good reading goes, I would recommend former Leaguer Jason Kuznicki’s essay on the subject:

    Let’s be clear on this: In a hypothetical world in which torture provided accurate intelligence, torture would still be barbaric. In the real world — where torture doesn’t work very well at all, but where many people firmly believe that it does — ending the actual practice of torture may require from time to time emphasizing its ineffectiveness at finding the truth: As a simple matter of logical disjunction, this speaks not at all to its morality.

    Still, though, a large number of people out there have made the moral compromise on torture simply because they believe that it works. It would be delightful if we could somehow convince these folks of the principle that the ends don’t ever justify the means. But in the meantime, and as a short-run solution, we should convince them that the means at hand are ineffective. This makes advocating torture irrational, even by their own (twisted!) standards of morality.


    What do people tell under torture? Appealing lies. The lies the torturer wants to hear. The ones that will get the pain and the horror to stop. We know this from the history of Europe, where Soviet show trials were filled with the tortured depositions of loyal communists who confessed to being spies for Latvia, wreckers of engines, and spoilers of harvests. We know this from the witch trials of the early modern era, where – unless physics itself has changed in the meantime – harmless, utterly innocent women were made to confess falsely that they consorted with the devil, spoiled harvests (again!), and flew through the air on broomsticks.

    Torture is wrong, period, no matter how you look at it. It’s morally wrong, and it’s ineffective. It reduces it’s practitioners to barbarism and invites barbaric retaliation, destroying any moral authority along the way, and for what? Unreliable information at best. History does not look back kindly on the Salem Witch Trials or the Inquisition, and it won’t look back kindly on this.Report

  7. Damon says:

    In periods pre 9/11 and after, we’ve claimed we don’t torture, but we have had no compunction about handing over someone to let someone else do it: the Syrians, the Egyptians, etc. Sorry, but that action doesn’t keep the blood off your hands.

    I think the key topic that needs wide discussion among the public, which will never happen, is to what lengths do we want to go to protect the empire? (our interests) The public really doesn’t want to have this conversation and doesn’t want to know or decide. Just like our political leaders, they don’t want to know what may have been done, unless it can be used for political gain. Since we can’t decide as a nation, this let’s stuff like this happen as there is no resounding public agreement on where the line stops.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Damon says:

      That’s a far better conversation to have than one about torture. it’s also really hard to do right.
      Of course, if we don’t have the conversation, we let the military prep for resource wars.Report

  8. I’m not sure exactly what I think about all your points Dennis, but I agree at least partially with the following:

    1. Post-2001 torture was definitely not unique to US history. Whether it goes against “American values” might be a different story, but it’s not unique.

    2. I, too, don’t believe torture is always and by definition ineffective. I wouldn’t say “they wouldn’t do it if it weren’t effective,” but I think in some situations it might. That doesn’t mean I support it. I might in a very small number of some very select ticking-time-bomb scenarios, but even then I’d keep it criminal.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      I have no doubt that torture would get a guy to tell you everything he knows.

      I don’t have faith in the questioner’s ability to discern between a guy who knows something for real and a guy who doesn’t know anything.

      In any case, let me quote this tweet approvingly:


      • Kimmi in reply to Jaybird says:

        Yes, slavery is commercially feasible.

        … sometimes, I fucking hate this world.Report

      • Mark J in reply to Jaybird says:

        This brings up a great point that everyone seems to overlook when they like to say that America is a nation that tortures.

        The US was founded on the enslavement and torture of millions.Report

      • Mark J in reply to Jaybird says:

        Should be “…isn’t a nation that tortures”Report

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird says:


        I agree with your comment and the tweet you copied. I should have added in my comment, and as a response to what Dennis said in his OP, that even if it can conceivably work in some instances, the fact that it works so poorly, if at all, in practice is a huge argument against it. If someone one were to justify doing something so wrong, you would at least want it to work.Report

  9. North says:

    Huge numbers of Democrats (bafflingly including the entire Obama Whitehouse) and nearly every single Republican (sans John McCain) have been adamantly opposed to the releasing of this report. It is a miracle it’s been released at all. Kvetching that it doesn’t call for prosecutions and the like strikes me as nonsensical and claiming that it’s politicized feels unhinged to me.

    None of the accused torturers were interviewed because they were under a Justice department inquiry and so would not have been willing to incriminate themselves. They also have been claiming classification and nondisclosure agreements. I note, with interest, that you haven’t commented on the uncontested fact that the CIA destroyed tapes of the torture sessions without authorization.

    With regards to the politics it’s very obvious that the politicians are squirming frantically and trying not to be implicated. It’s also obvious that they were pretty much frog marched into agreeing with this policy during the post 9/11 hysteria. That’s an indictment of them and yet also speaks curiously about the fact that this report is being released again.

    Feinstein has been a notorious CIA backer- it speaks to just how off the rails the agency has gone and how glaring their violations are and their misbehaviors have been in trying to cover it up that they’ve managed to make her turn on them like this.

    Granted the US has never been pure as the driven snow but this is an especially vile level of moral failure and it is also specifically illegal. You haven’t mentioned Geneva yet; I don’t see how the torturers and their authorizers should be able to escape this. Note that we executed Nazi’s and Japanese for offenses just like the ones that have been detailed in this report. If I were Bush or Yoo or Rumsfield I would not be planning any trips outside the US any time soon.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to North says:

      Bush has land in South America, in a country that won’t extradite to anywhere.Report

    • Dave in reply to North says:


      You haven’t mentioned Geneva yet; I don’t see how the torturers and their authorizers should be able to escape this.

      A lot of the people that were being captured didn’t fit the legal definition of a lawful combatant and hence afforded traditional POW status. In addition, it was believed that the sorts of fighters that we were facing post 9/11 didn’t meet the definition of unlawful enemy combatant required to provide protection under Common Article 3. It wasn’t until 2006 in the Hamdan v Rumsfeld decision that resolved the debate with the effect being that the detainees should have been treated under CA3 but ultimately weren’t.

      I’ll note that the dissent did not dispute the majority opinion’s interpretation but did suggest that the Bush Administration’s interpretation was plausible enough that deference should have been given to the Executive Branch (a very Thomas-like position back then).Report

      • DavidTC in reply to Dave says:

        A lot of the people that were being captured didn’t fit the legal definition of a lawful combatant and hence afforded traditional POW status.

        I am not sure how that’s relevant. Whether they were POWs has bearing on whether or not they can be charged with a crime, whether or not they can be questioned, whether or not they have certain priviledges of rank and prisoner exchanges and releases and things like that. (1)

        It has very little to do with torture, because torture is not illegal because people are POWs. (It’s *also* illegal to do to POWs.)

        Torture is illegal under international law to do to anyone, for any reason, full stop. As far as I am aware there are no exceptions at all.

        And, what’s more, the Geneva conventions about POWs only apply to countries that have signed them.

        Whereas crimes against humanity, things like torture, from what I understand, apply to everyone, at least to the extent the international community can *make* them apply.

        1) I would argue that their imaginary third classification is complete bullshit. The government must give people trials when you imprison them. There are all sorts of authorities the government can hold people under…POWs, criminals, quarantines, people who are a danger to themselves and others, etc, and if the government wants to invent new categories I’m not *completely* opposed to that, although such a thing has to happen via the *law* and not just making up phrases like ‘unlawful combatant’.

        But, even then, *everyone* gets a trial or hearing or something to determine if they fit in that category, with the right to refute the claims against them, with an actual lawyer on their side and witnesses and evidence and everything. And the ‘hearings’ that detainees *finally* got weren’t even enough of a legal judgement to count as *show trial*, much less an actual one. (Not to mention we continued to detain them long after finding them not the sort of people we thought they were.)

        But this is all moot WRT torture. We can’t torture actual convicted criminals, much less random people we just assert have behaved ‘unlawfully’.Report

    • Patrick in reply to North says:

      Feinstein has been a notorious CIA backer- it speaks to just how off the rails the agency has gone and how glaring their violations are and their misbehaviors have been in trying to cover it up that they’ve managed to make her turn on them like this.


      Feinstein has a career of being a remarkably political animal. Particularly ruthlessly so at times. It’s made me angry for years.

      She just traded away all of her political capital. I would not be surprised if she retires at the end of this term.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Patrick says:

        Feinstein has been the luckiest politician in history. (I can’t do it justice here; I’ll write a post some time.) This report will somehow implicate both Hillary and the GOP nominee and get DiFi elected as the first Jewish female octogenarian president in 2016.Report

  10. Mo says:

    “I tend to think the CIA didn’t act alone, but the other actors left no fingerprints.”

    Is that really credible? Is there evidence that Congress and the White House are better at covering up their tracks better than the CIA?Report

    • zic in reply to Mo says:

      Yup. We have been talking about torture for a long time, now. For years. Waterboarding and renditions are old news, now.

      So to me, the notion of covering up tracks, not knowing, etc. is all just finger-pointing, trying to deflect responsibility.

      The real problem here is that we all, as a nation, let this happen. We gave into fear, and turned into something awful. What the CIA did reflected our national moral compass, not a few rouge heroes.Report

      • Dennis Sanders in reply to zic says:

        @zic Thanks for sharing. I forgot to mention the fact that we as Americans have allowed this to happen. This isn’t just a stain on the CIA, or Congress or the Bush Administration. It is a stain on all of America. I’m glad you brought this up.Report

      • morat20 in reply to zic says:

        Obfuscated as it was by a cloud of lies (“isolated incidents”, “not any worse than X”, “within the law”) and weasel-worded legal findings to give people cover (from qualified immunity to the simple ability to claim ‘legal’), it wasn’t hard to realize that it was far, far, far worse than what was publicly known.

        If you followed politics. If you read the articles that went into depth about it. If you were suspicious at all. (But let’s be honest — I found the case for the invasion of Iraq to be laughable and obviously a pack of BS — but lots of people didn’t. The media was quite helpful selling the invasion of Iraq, and very tentative on covering torture unless they could spin it as a few bad apples).

        If you didn’t, what you got was ‘we did some maybe grey area stuff, but it couldn’t be too bad because the White House claims it’s legal and the Senators/Congressmen knew about it and they weren’t raising a huge stink or anything’.

        That doesn’t even get into the extent of how much the CIA was just flat-out lying to Congress. Maybe you believe it, maybe you don’t. Something’s torqued off a lot of people who would ordinarily back the CIA, so I’m guessing they’re feeling at least a little burned.

        But then again — since 9/11, we didn’t want nuance or complexity. We were angry, and politicians found appealing to the baser instincts made people happy. Smash some countries up, smack around a few bad guys, posture on the world stage. That got you votes, for a good 6 or 7 years. And that’s on us, as a public, if nothing else.

        We cheerfully voted for revenge and violence, without nuance or focus.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to zic says:

        The real problem here is that we all, as a nation, let this happen.

        I seem to recall a very long propaganda campaign in the runup to the Iraq invasion specifically designed to instill fear sufficient to support an act of unjustifiable military aggression as well as rendition and all that other bullshit. People were lied to by a handful of gummint officials who bought into Cheney’s self-serving 1% doctrine. Lots of folks on the receiving end of those lies agreed with the liars based on a corollary of the same doctrine: if there’s a 1% chance Cheney’s right, we gotta shock and awe, enhancedly interrogate, extraordinarily rend em all. Anyone with a 1% chance of being a bad guy.Report

      • zic in reply to zic says:

        I know I dealt with this reporting. On a local level, I was conducting an investigation of our local water district and how they were managing the land that is our drinking supply. (The land collapsed in a storm, a sign of excessive timber harvesting a few years later, the subject of my investigation.) The water-district supervisor threatened me with the Patriot Act; he said my investigation brought attention to the water supply, making it a terrorist target.

        In writing on companies doing business with the military, there was no end of ‘what’s classified,’ it was a huge problem. I did a story on a company that had developed helicopter field-repair manuals for gaming consoles; and had to re-write it repeatedly because of classified stuff; nobody knew what was and what wasn’t. And this was so far away from any actual war on terror, from any terrorist activity.

        We bought into fear. Fear drove us. I doubt we’re brave enough now to admit that, too. If I were a satirical cartoonist, I’d be developing chicken characters to represent the US.Report

      • Mo in reply to zic says:

        But there’s also a significant proportion of Congress (never less than 40% of the Senate and occasionally a majority) and the White House (at least until Jan 09) that supported it and wouldn’t want their tracks covered. The rebuttal report would have highlighted documentary evidence that there was proper oversight, but didn’t publish that evidence. Why would Bush/Cheney or a Republican Congress cover that up?Report

      • James Hanley in reply to zic says:

        I have to go with Stillwater here. The “we as Americans let it happen” line is exactly the kind of claim that keeps me bearing in mind that we should never ascribe individual characteristics to groups.

        “We” obscures the big distinctions between those who objected vigorously, those who went along out of uncertainty and fear, and those who vigorously approved. Lumping them all together does not help clarify who’s responsible, nor does it help us analyze how it is that some people are swayed to support such atrocities.

        Groups do not have minds, they do not have consciousness or consciences, they do not have wills or desires or goals. It’s a convenient short-hand term at times, but it always sits on top of a deep falsehood that frequently, as in this case, assigns collective guilt, a concept that our legal system shuns and that our moral philosophy should also shun.Report

      • Christopher Carr in reply to zic says:

        Likewise, I take no responsibility for what happened.Report

      • Don Zeko in reply to zic says:

        @james-hanley Not only that, but the program had already been going on for years before the public really knew anything about what was being done.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to zic says:

        Sadly, I do have to agree that we let this happen. Each and every single one of us.

        You didn’t drive to Washington with a bomb. You didn’t set yourself on fire. You didn’t file military protests, or join the CIA simply to release documents related to this. Or hire mercenaries/assassins to deal with the torturers.

        Is all of this stuff that we should feel obligated to do, simply because our conscience cries out?

        No. But you don’t get to shirk responsibility for your decisions, and these were your decisions.Report

      • j r in reply to zic says:

        “We” obscures the big distinctions between those who objected vigorously, those who went along out of uncertainty and fear, and those who vigorously approved.

        That plus the “we let this happen” idea also discounts the extent to which the overwhelming number of actions that our government takes, supposedly on our behalf, are either directly or indirectly screened from any mechanism by which “we” can change things.

        Put a relative hawk in the White House and the national security state expands and torture becomes an accepted practice. Put a supposed dove in the White House… and the national security state expands and the government asserts the right to execute people with flying death robots. This stuff is literally on remote control.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to zic says:

        flying death robots

        That’s a great band name.

        Also, I 100% agree with you and Don Zeko.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to zic says:

        jr’s point is excellent, and to some degree supercedes mine, unless we’re willing to put Presidential Assassination or mass murder of our military on the table… (and I’d argue that the consequences of those actions might wind up being counterproductive).Report

      • j r in reply to zic says:


        To give credit where credit is due, I lifted that term from Who Is IOZ?Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to zic says:

        I’ve been watching Fox News, and apparently the report is partisan crap because we never tortured anyone, and anyway everyone already knew that we tortured people.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to zic says:


        Huh, I’ve never before stumbled across a blog open only to invited readers. What’s it about? (If you’re allowed to tell. I’m imagining a Fight Club set of rules: “The first rule of Who is IOZ is that you don’t talk about Who is IOZ.” But of course you’ve already broken that one, so you might as well break the second rule, too.)Report

      • LWA in reply to zic says:


        Reading comments from torture apologists often feels like arguing with Vizzini:

        “Clearly, since America is Awesome, we did not torture!
        And clearly, since everyone knows that these were Bad People, torturing them was completely justified!
        The government would never torture anyone if it didn’t work- and we know it worked, because we have their confessions!

        My word, what is that over there- a Benghazi??”

        Truly, they have a dizzying intellect.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to zic says:

        It’s exactly the same as arguing with Holocaust deniers. “It never happened, and anyway they deserved it.”

        (Yeah, I know. But it’s not an analogy. It really is the same thing.)Report

      • DavidTC in reply to zic says:

        You didn’t drive to Washington with a bomb. You didn’t set yourself on fire. You didn’t file military protests, or join the CIA simply to release documents related to this. Or hire mercenaries/assassins to deal with the torturers.

        Those are all completely ridiculous ‘solutions’, as there’s no reason to think that any of them would have reduced the amount of torture *in the slightest*.

        In fact, as two of the suggested solutions *are terrorism*, it’s entirely possible that any American citizen doing those things *would have made things worse* by causing the program to expand to include a larger pool of people.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to zic says:

        I think you’d be surprised what a little sunlight can do, particularly applied with a skillful hand.
        Tell Lativia or Poland what’s happening on their soil Right Now, and they’re forced to do /something/. Hell, even their populace may decide to do something.

        and only one of them is actually terrorism… (which I suppose I ought to admit, I do not advocate).Report

  11. Guy says:

    “You can’t base morality on the ends (ie: it doesn’t work); you have to focus on the means.”

    I’d just like to point out that, after a torture session, “you tortured a guy” becomes a true statement; it is perfectly rational to focus on ends.Report

  12. Damon says:

    Posted without comment other than this: this guy says torture worked.


    • Kimmi in reply to Damon says:

      to be clear: what the reports actually say is this:
      1) KSM was resistant to talking.
      2) We tortured KSM — leading to no actionable intelligence during this time.
      3) Afterwards, we used more “standard” and “permissible” intelligence techniques, and he started talking/lying (at least one person, i forget if it was KSM, was lying after being tortured).

      Some people say “without 2, 3 wouldn’t have worked” (despite long paperwork trails on other religious zealots, proving otherwise).

      Other people say “2 was ineffective, and 3 worked. torture didn’t help”

      I think that anyone in Bush’s admin has strong incentive to lie and inflate torture’s effectiveness.Report

    • Slade the Leveller in reply to Damon says:

      You mean the same guy who wrote this, “The world is experiencing virulent outbreaks of Ebola and Islamist radicalism. What if the two threats converge into one?”

      I think it’s safe to discount the opinion of a guy who sees a boogeyman around every corner.

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, nothing that happens in the Middle East poses an existential threat to the United States. How we react to what goes on over there clearly does.Report

  13. KatherineMW says:

    I agree entirely with your statement that this is not unique. America has engaged in torture in the past, and has trained police and military forces in other countries to torture people via the School of the Americas. The main difference is that, so far as I know, all of the previous uses of torture were clandestine, not a part of stated government policy. Despite the statements of the report that nobody knew what the CIA was up to, the Bush Administration did know they were torturing people, and they made doing so a matter of government policy: the White House Office of Legal Council memos providing legal cover for torture make that clear. They admitted to methods that constitute torture, and simply denied that they were torture.

    Although the White House definitely knew of and condoned torture, I don’t know what Congress’ role in it was, as I don’t have documents proving that they knew what was going on. But I have absolutely zero doubt that the CIA lied extensively about their actions, because the CIA have always done so, throughout their history, and regard democratic oversight as an affront. I expect that what we see in the report is far less that what the CIA actually did, because much of the evidence (e.g., videotapes) had already been destroyed by the CIA.

    I don’t think the report was about scoring political points. The lack of any criminal charges being brought or recommended make it very clear that Congress doesn’t want to go anywhere with this; they’re willing to allow some transparency, but they don’t want it to lead to anything. Releasing a summary of the report is about the minimum possible they can do. To the extent that it’s political, I think it’s affected by two factors. Firstly, they were likely reluctant to release it pre-election out of fears of being painted as “soft on terror” for opposing torture, and now that they’ve lost the election they know there would be zero chance of it every seeing daylight once the Republicans took power in Congress. Secondly, I think they’re highly pissed off at the CIA for spying on the Senate investigation and deleting documents that informed the investigation; to me, this helps explain why Feinstein – generally a staunch supporter of the national security state – backs the report’s release. I don’t think either of these considerations negates the fact that releasing the report, and increasing the public’s knowledge of the torture committed by its government, was a very positive thing.

    Torture is both wrong and ineffective. It’s not utterly impossible for it to ever work, but people with knowledge and experience in interrogation overwhelmingly say that conventional methods work better and that torture is counterproductive and very unlikely to yield information that couldn’t be gained through non-torture methods. As for why it would be authorized despite its ineffectiveness – two reasons. Firstly, because people with thuggish mindsets or who are accustomed to use of force tend to view force as more effective and “tough” than not-force, regardless of the facts. Secondly, you’re forgetting your 1984. “The object of torture is torture.” It was after 9/11, they had people they hated in custody, I expect that on some level their people wanted authorization to go to town on them, and their superiors wanted to give it. Or, slightly more charitably, they were simply afraid of rejecting ANY method, including torture, that they felt had any chance of being useful. I suspect it was a mix of these things. But we absolutely shouldn’t rule out the effects of simple hate. Ultimately, people who torture do so because they want to.Report