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Torture: A terrible price

Diane Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, released a summary of a committee report that investigated enhanced interrogation techniques, EIT, in a nicely bureaucratized and sanitized acronym that refers to what can properly be called torture.
The debate is no longer over whether the CIA used torture when trying to extract information from those suspected of terrorism. Visuals that have been released make it painfully evident that torture was used to get information deemed essential to national security. The argument has shifted at least in part to whether the information wrung from prisoners was effective, with particular attention given to the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden.
I think it is important to frame the torture issue in the larger context of America’s response to the horrifying and sordid death of some 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2011, a day whose impact on America was not unlike that of December 7, 1941. We girded for war after Pearl Harbor and took it to Japan, the nation that started it. There were mistakes along the way, most notably the incarceration of Japanese Americans. This is a stain that we have had to live with. The use of torture by America against suspects of terrorism isn’t so easy to live with, at not least for me (I say this knowing that many feel differently, very differently). But this is a different type of war than any we have ever fought. It isn’t against an enemy nation. It is against terrorist groups that are driven by fanaticism who wantonly murder those of their own religion that are seen as heretical nonetheless. They hate fellow Muslims and they hate America and everything it stands for.
One of the tragedies of the war that America launched after 9/11 is how little our political leadership knew about the Islamic world that we entered militarily. It has been said that a month before we invaded Iraq that George W. Bush didn’t know about differences between Sunni and Shia Muslims. What is clear is that when we invaded Iraq President Bush called it a crusade. I saw him say this on the evening news. The Arab equivalent of that word is jihad; the American president gave our enemies the very recruiting card that they wanted.
We have continued to dispense these cards, as if to sabotage the war that we have been waging. In doing so we have presided over the destruction of much of Iraq. Innocent Iraqis have paid a terrible price for our errors, however unintended they have been.
The role of the CIA in the war against Iraq is a deep stain on its record. The CIA gave the White House what it wanted in 2003, baked evidence that helped justify the American invasion of Iraq. Anyone who knew anything about Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein knew that they were sworn enemies; that Saddam Hussein was implicated in 9/11 was ludicrous, an obvious fabrication. The CIA cooperated with the White House when it helped justify the American invasion of Iraq, and it cooperated with the White House when it used torture against prisoners.
It is against this background that I think the argument over EITs can be seen. Senator Feinstein felt that America and the world should know about our use of torture against terrorism suspects. She knew that Republicans would not release the information when they gained control of the Senate. It was now or never; she chose now. She sailed into a political storm with her eyes wide open.
Is there political capital to be gained from this course of action? Perhaps, but Senator Feinstein would have to be foolish if that was her reason. President Obama has taken a cautious line. He wants to get a budget through Congress and he wants the storm that has engulfed the nation’s capital to subside. Yet, he said about torture in calmer times that this isn’t what we as Americans do. This is, in fact what we did, with directives coming down from the White House, which those same men continue to defend today.
CIA director John O. Brennan has called the interrogators who resorted to torture to get what they wanted patriots. The nation was in a time of extreme peril. He feels that perilous times called for extreme measures. In this line of reasoning CIA interrogators were serving America when they tortured prisoners; they were patriots.
America is the greatest nation on the earth. I regret to say that we have lost our way in recent times. The Japanese have yet to acknowledge their wrongs in World War II. I am proud that Senator Feinstein chose to acknowledge our mistakes to the world by using torture to get what we wanted from prisoners.


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