Awaiting The Torture Report

Glenn Greenwald and his team will be live-blogging (and we’ll be devouring and analyzing it as fast as we responsibly can):

[T]his will be by far the most comprehensive and official account of the War on Terror’s official torture regime. Given the authors – Committee Democrats along with two Maine Senators: Agnus King (I) and Susan Collins (R) – it’s likely to whitewash critical events, including the key, complicit role members of Congress such as Nancy Pelosi played in approving the program (important details of which are still disputed), as well an attempt to insulate the DC political class by stressing how the CIA“misled” elected officials about the program. But the report is certain to lay bare in very stark terms some of the torture methods, including “graphic details about sexual threats” and what Reuters still euphemistically and subserviently calls “other harsh interrogation techniques the CIA meted out to captured militants.”

Micah Zenko wants us to remember how widespread the support was for these heinous actions:

When reading the executive summary, Americans should try to look beyond these specific abuses and ask the fundamental question: How could senior officials at the CIA, White House, and the Department of Justice have unanimously approved the use of torture?

According to officials’ memoirs and historical accounts examining the four months between March 28, 2002, when al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan, and Aug. 1, when the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo authorizing the enhanced interrogation techniques was completed, not one senior official aware of the program registered an objection to it. Current CIA Director John Brennan, who was the agency’s deputy executive director in 2002, later claimed he had “personal objections” to “waterboarding, nudity, and others,” but he never made this officially known, not even to the CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, whose office was just 15 feet away.

Dafna Linzer previews the spin from the CIA and the Senate:

The report is likely to blame CIA leaders for false portrayals of the value of the interrogations or for keeping details from congressional leaders and even the White House. Expect every named former CIA official to deny it. And expect to never know the truth. The Senate didn’t investigate itself. There is no gathered evidence of what the committee – which routinely meets behind closed doors – was told exactly, what it authorized or what CIA leaders believed they were authorized by Congress to do.

How Massimo Calabresi frames the debate over the report:

What effect will assigning blame have? The CIA says it is so burned by the EIT program that it is permanently out of the business of interrogation and Dianne Feinstein, the hawkish head of the Senate Intelligence committee, says that’s fine. The purpose of her report, she says, is to ensure such a program is never again acceptable to Americans.

But plenty of others, from ex-CIA officer Jose Rodriguez, to former Vice President Dick Cheney, to former CIA chief Michael Hayden, say the program should be available for use if there is another major attack on the U.S. Even Obama’s CIA chief says only that the EIT program is not now “appropriate,” suggesting it might be in other circumstances.

Ultimately, the report’s value lies in answering that simple question: should we ever do it again?

The people who approved torture had the means of knowing — should have known — it would elicit false confessions. It’s just that no one can prove whether that was the entire point or not. … It’s not just a question of whether torture is “effective” at obtaining intelligence. It’s also whether the entire point of it was to produce spies and propaganda.

The report is essential because it makes clear the legal, moral, and strategic costs of torture. President Obama and congressional leaders should use this opportunity to push for legislation that solidifies the ban on torture and cruel treatment. While current law prohibits these acts, US officials employed strained legal arguments to authorize abuse.

A law could take various forms: a codification of the president’s 2009 executive order banning torture, for example, or an expansion of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act so that key protections in it would apply to the CIA as well as the military. However it’s designed, a new law would help the country stay true to its ideals during times of crisis and guard against a return to the “dark side.”