Will the torture report change CIA?

With the releasing of CIA torture report we hear a lot about CIA’s ineffectiveness and mismanagement. CIA fights against the report, but no matter what both sides are saying, what’s your view on what should be the lesson learned for CIA from the report and from what happened after 9/11? Any particular changes you would suggest? Read few comments.

Jeffrey Taliaferro, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Tufts University

There are six lessons that I think we ought to draw. First, the CIA’s now defunct detention and interrogation program was born out of fear. Despite protestation to the contrary, during times of national emergency and perceived high external threat, even liberal democratic governments can behave in ways that betray their own values and shock the conscience of most thinking people. In that respect, the United States is no different from other countries. In fall 2001, the George W. Bush administration and the CIA were reeling from the biggest intelligence failure in US history. Senior officials in the administration and the agency feared another mass casualty attack on the US homeland was high likely.

Second, the culpability (and blame) for the CIA’s program extended far beyond the 7th floor of CIA Headquarters. The SSCI report makes clear that program had the authorization of the Bush White House and that the specific “interrogation” techniques used on detainees were consistent with the legal reasonings provided by John Yoo in the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel and David Addington in the Office of the Vice President. That said, the declassified executive summary ignores the fact that the CIA acting general counsel John Rizzo briefed the “Gang of Eight” (the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate and the chairs and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees) about the program. Furthermore, I find it inconceivable that Bush was not briefed until 2006! One unfortunate consequence of the SCCI executive summary is that it perpetuates the “myth” of the rogue CIA. CIA did not go “rogue,” but rather it acted at the bequest of its main customers: the president of the United States and the senior members of his national security team.

Third, there is one area where the SSCI executive summary and DCIA Brennan seem to agree: CIA was utterly ill-equipped to detain and interrogated high-value al Qaeda leaders and operatives. CIA should never have been in the business of holding and interrogating detainees in the first place.

Fourth, the question of whether any actionable intelligence was obtained from the 26 of the 119 detainees subjected to brutal interrogation methods in the “Salt Pit” and other “black sites” is unanswerable. It is unanswerable because it turns on a counterfactual: how much actionable intelligence on active terrorist plots would the CIA have been able to collect, analyze, and disseminate had there been no detention and enhanced interrogation program? We can never know. Regardless of whether the program may have thwarted terrorist plots and saved American lives, as former DCI George Tenet, former DCIA Michael Hayden, former DDCI John McLaughlin and others claim, the political and diplomatic fallout has been great.

Fifth, we do not (yet) know the whole story. Here I agree with the current and former leadership of CIA. The SSCI executive summary (which only the Democratic senators on the committee supported) did not interview any of the personnel associated with the program.

Sixth, and finally, sometimes “don’t do stupid stuff” is a sound guideline for intelligence and national security policy. Unfortunately, when people are fearful, they tend to do stupid stuff.

David Schanzer, Associate Professor of the Practice, Duke University

President Bush made the fundamental mistake in approving a program that permitted the use of coercive force in interrogations.  Once that line was crossed, it was inevitable that abusive interrogations would take place.

The idea that the CIA could manage a program that straddled the fine line between the types of coercive interrogations that fell outside the definition of torture and those that were torture was an absolute fantasy.  The so called experts who said this was possible had absolutely no experience in this area and should not have been delegated this important responsibility.  George Tenet , director at the CIA at the time, is responsible for this huge lapse in judgment and poor management.

Scott Lucas, Professor of American Studies, University of Birmingham

1. I think the almost-exclusive focus on the CIA by much of the media is misplaced.

Certainly the Agency will be pressed to review internal practices in light of the exposure of the details of the detention and torture. However, the fundamental remains that someone in the Executive ordered that torture — in this case, President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

So the question, more than the CIA changing, is how the Executive should/will change in light of this.

2. The report minimizes this key question. While the detail confirms that the Executive ordered and/or sanctioned the practices which were condemned, the bulk of the summary focuses on the CIA — to the point of absolving the President by declaring that he was “misinformed” or that the Agency did not even provide detailed information until 2006.

I believe that this was primarily for political reasons. The Democrats, by focusing on the CIA, could get their report disseminiated, with redactions — not only over the objections of the Republicans but those of the Obama White House. If they had brought forward critique of the Executive, this might not have been possible.

Michael Smith, Former Intelligence Officer, Editor of The Secret Agent’s Bedside Reader

The use of torture can never be justified, both for moral reasons and for good, solid intelligence-gathering reasons. If we dispense with the norms of behaviour that we use to judge what constitutes a civilised society we become no better than the terrorist.

Even in terms of enhancing the intelligence picture torture is a thoroughly unreliable tool. If you torture someone they are more likely to tell you what you want to hear than the truth and the lives of your own people will end up depending on false intelligence.

David BarrettProfessor, Department of Political Science, Villanova University

I don’t think there will be important changes for CIA, in terms of new laws.  The incoming Republican-majority Congress is unlikely to pass legislation changing CIA‘s role or the way it is monitored.



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