I’ve been too busy to catch up properly with the report on CIA torture that came out this week, but it looks like this is another report that’s been misreported.
From reports of it I’d heard on local media, I’d assumed the report recounted widespread and barbaric torture that was ultimately ineffective in extracting information, and was now very properly being condemned.
Turns out that out of 39 captured terrorists there were precisely three who were waterboarded. Waterboarding is not exactly comfortable, but depending how you classify being forced to listen Neil Diamond then that was really as far as the report says physical torture went.
Were some of the captured terrorists treated roughly? Absolutely. Their lives must have been miserable, and deservedly so. [This was war.]…
To me, what is striking is what was not done to the prisoners. While one was threatened with a power drill, it was not in fact used on him. That would have been torture. Similarly, while one detainee was told that his children might be killed, they were not harmed. (If it had been the Russians, they would have been killed.) Al Qaeda has produced a manual on how to torture prisoners; among many other things, it explains how to scoop the prisoner’s eyes out. Nothing like that was done to captured leaders of al Qaeda. The terrorists’ fingernails were not extracted, their testicles were not crushed, their thumbs were not screwed. They weren’t even beaten.
They were subjected to rough treatment, since a terrorist can’t be made to talk by feeding him tea and cakes. But none of this amounts to torture; not even waterboarding, in my opinion. Waterboarding is best seen as a humane alternative to torture. It lasts only a few minutes and, while unpleasant–that is the point–causes no lasting physical harm. Unlike real torture.
I don’t know what animus or desire for political gain drove Senate Democrats to produce a vindictive, one-sided report on the CIA’s interrogation techniques (almost all of which, for better or worse, are now history). But if you read between the lines, the picture that emerges is quite different: a civilised nation, determined to protect its people, did the dirty work necessary to learn the secrets of a ruthless, terrorist enemy, acting almost always within legal and moral norms.
To be sure, tt’s the “almost” that some of us still worry about. But if that account of the report is correct, it looks like the 39 captured terrorists were treated better by the CIA than some American citizens have been treated by their own police force.
Here’s Scott Walker, about genuine torture. (And, yes, it’s supposed to be disturbing.)