Some things are just wrong. Absolutely, and always. Surely torture is one of them. That it’s even necessary to say this, in America, in the 21st century, seems bizarre.
Torture not only damages the victims, but also the perpetrators, and the societies that tolerate it.
But the Senate report refutes every claim that helpful information was garnered. All the pushback to that conclusion is nothing but bald assertions, “yes it did,” without specifying exactly when and how. And meantime, as the report also documents, the CIA has lied pervasively about this subject.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, it’s also revealed that the CIA paid $81 million in taxpayer money, to a couple of bozos, for the precious advice to copy Chinese Communist torture techniques.
And even if the torture had produced good information, it would not have been worth the price paid, in shredded American moral credibility. When China, and Iran can, with straight faces, shake their scolding fingers at America on human rights, we know we’re off the rails. Now, when we criticize them, many will think we’re the moral hypocrites. America’s thusly squandering its role as the world’s conscience will make it all the easier for the worst human rights abusers to act with impunity. It’s a big setback to the global moral progress so painstakingly achieved. Altogether a prohibitively huge cost for whatever information (if any) we got through torture.
But 9/11 blinded us to our true national interests, making us so hysterically fearful of terrorism as to pay almost any price to thwart it. Horrible as it was, 9/11 did not harm America, or undermine what we cherish about our society, nearly as much as what we’ve done in response to it. Like all the surveillance, TSA madness, hostility toward foreign visitors, curtailment of civil liberties, and distortions to our foreign policy. And torture, giving ourselves one heck of a black eye. That self-inflicted damage to America, and to human values globally, is greater than a dozen 9/11s would have done.
I am not of the Andrew Bacevich school, holding that anything we try to do to make the world better is futile, and we shouldn’t even try. Being proactive to improve things is the essence of the human character. But Tim Weiner’s aptly titled history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes, shows that the CIA has never gotten anything right, never done anything that truly served America’s interests, while doing things, again and again and again, that disserved them. We’d be better off had the CIA never existed.
Nor am I of the Noam Chomsky school, seeing nothing good about America. Yes, our country has blemishes, this is Earth, not Heaven, populated by humans, not angels. But the Chomskys are morally blind to the bigger picture. And part of what is truly great about America is the spirit of openness, self-criticism, and self-correction exemplified by the Senate report. You will see nothing like that in China or Iran (or Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, or Egypt).*
*China has just awarded its annual Peace Prize to Fidel Castro. Last year’s winner was Putin.