Off Target: The Senate’s Report on Torture Failed Americans

There are many problems with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA Enhanced Interrogations (EITs). Many of these problems have been duly noted in various periodicals over the past several months or so. These problems being, but not limited to, the lack of bipartisan effort to flesh out the truth behind EITs, the lack of investigative measures taken by the committee, most notably not interviewing key CIA leaders, and many other problematic issues.

As many have come forward with their concerns, from former intelligence officials, to political leaders, to pundits, all seem to miss the main problem with the report; that it focuses on the wrong question: Were EITs an effective and a useful means of obtaining information? Not only does the committee’s report fail to objectively dissect this question, it grossly frames the debate away from the real question the public should consider: Do EITs uphold moral, legal, and ethical standards as a means to an end? This SHOULD be the main question when parsing this subject. Why is the public allowing itself to be distracted by a subordinate question that misframes the debate, and why are certain leaders instigating partisan smoke and mirror tactics when considering the topic of EITs from a legal and ethical perspective?

The main reason is because humans struggle to weigh certain lives against others, (at least societies that tend to uphold moral and ethical standards do). If given the decision to save 10 lives in exchange for one, humans will most always struggle to decide on the best course of action when confronted with such a conundrum. Senate leaders do not want to tackle such ethical dilemmas, because they view it as a political loser, and would rather mislead and frame the debate in a manner that is convulted clouded in false reporting absent of the facts members of the IC would prefer to put forward professionaly and responsibly.

To further illustrate this point, consider the town of Coventry during World War II. Though the veracity of the historical incident is challenged, many believe the British leadership allowed the town to be firebombed by the Luftwaffe rather than warned and evacuated. British leadership supposedly did so because warning the town would indicate to German leadership that the Allies had broken Nazi codes and these codes would thus, be changed, thereby hindering the Allied war effort. This, in so many ways, was brilliantly portrayed in the latest motion picture and book, The Imitation Game. These scenarios and dilemmas should be at the forefront of public awareness and the central issue of debate when it comes to the horror that is war. It is much easier to have these discussions in times of peace (after the fact), when information is declassified and military personnel are not at risk. Unfortunately, the committee did not wait for such circumstances and many brave men and women are now at greater risk because of this report.

Above all else, the report fails to weigh the Kantian categorical imperative against utilitarian principles, as it should be debated within the context of 21st Century warfare if it were to be truly discussed, debated, and analyzed. In an age of rampant cyber attacks, terrorism, and other threats to national security, US Senate leaders have successfully undermined and failed to present the moral and legal arguments that must be discussed from the halls of Congress to small diners in the American heartland. Senate leaders have instead played the part of innocent, unknowing bystanders who are shocked by the CIA’s interrogation strategies. And yet, the truth is that they knew/suspected this was happening all along; they themselves directed the Agency to carry out these methods, and now they are castigating brave members of the intelligence community after pressuring them to act in a time of war.

In the meantime, Hollywood, surprisingly enough, seems to be the only organization publicly addressing the murky gray areas that are presented to soldiers on the battlefield and the tough wartime decisions leaders must tackle. Indeed, in the movie Zero Dark Thirty it was awful to see Al-Qaeda detainees soiling themselves in stress positions; but in the end, the viewer felt great satisfaction watching the good guys swoop in with their helicopters and night vision and ultimately ‘take care’ of the great villain Americans so desperately wanted captured or killed. Even the fantasy world of J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek portrays Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) debating Leonard Nemoy’s original statement in The Wrath of Kahn, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the individual.” Thank you Hollywood, for doing what Senate leaders will not.

Hopefully, the American public will see beyond the hypocrisy of this Senate report. The public should also note the current Administration’s tactic of making disparaging remarks towards the Bush Administration on the matter of EITs, all the while parading themselves around as heroes for killing the world’s most wanted terrorist; an operation that certainly utilized information gained from EITs. We should all hope for the future that American leaders will learn to present a more balanced and thought-provoking debate; one which seeks varied points of view when it comes to these type of legal and ethical matters.

Devin Guilliams is an MIA Candidate at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. He previously served two tours of duty in Iraq as an infantry officer in the US Army. This article presents only his views and they do not necessarily reflect those of Columbia University or the School of International and Public Affairs.


One thought on “Off Target: The Senate’s Report on Torture Failed Americans

  1. Excellent review of this dilemma. Morality is perplexing area for politics; partisan pulpits in some cases and hot potatoes in others. I recently read (and blogged about) Guantanamo Diary. Slahi’s story is horrific and I have a sinking feeling his is not the worst of cases.


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