Senate study outlines CIA interrogation techniques

March 7th, 2013

WipplDespite a filibuster by Senator Rand Paul,  John Brennan has been confirmed as the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency. What impact will the CIA’s past have on the agency Brennan will lead? A New York Times article discusses a secret study by the U.S. Senate that outlines the interrogation techniques that have been used for years by the United States. International relations professor Joseph Wippl, a former 30-year CIA operations officer, offers the following view on the study, as well as on torture and interrogation techniques.

The definition of torture in the UN convention against torture, ratified by the Senate of the United States, is ‘cruel, degrading and inhumane.’  This treaty only confirms anti-torture statutes in U.S. law.  There is some subjectivity on what torture means in this phrase but not much.  It is clear what torture is.  The convention also prohibits the transfer of individuals to countries that traditionally use torture.

The enhanced interrogation techniques fall into two categories:  one reflects torture as defined above (waterboarding used three times, sleep deprivation beyond a certain limit, nudity) while others (a grab or a slam) is not.  All the techniques were monitored to ensure they did not get out of hand.

Everyone knows these techniques came out of the military’s SERE program.  Everyone knows the legal reasoning by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to justify enhanced interrogation.  What no one knows is who was sitting at the table making the decision to go ahead with enhanced interrogation as a means to gain intelligence.

Did anyone ask if this was illegal or inappropriate for a country which issues, by law, an annual human rights report card on the rest of the world?  Did anyone say I am not doing this?  Did anyone ask how Americans could legally do outside the country what is illegal inside the country?  Did anyone ask what happened to the enlightenment?

Partisanship will dilute the Senate report.  In briefing members of Congress, I heard the refrain more than once from partisan politicians, ‘We have to move on.’  It really means we cannot deal with what happened because I might have to take some responsibility for the President I support.  Or, we might have to change.

Republicans circled the wagons on weapons of mass destruction (the Silbermann/Robb report was terribly flawed) and will, with exceptions like Senator McCain, do so with this report as well.  The problem then becomes we never get better and we never are able to avoid the same mistakes.

The bottom line on this report should be torture is wrong under all circumstances.  That means sometimes our citizens could get hurt.  Torture may or may not work but it is always wrong to use it.

Like the Iraq war, the above policies reflected the hysteria which swept the country after 9/11.  What the country needed at that time was leadership on the core values of the United States and its political and economic interests in the world.   What it got was self-destructive policies from which the country has not yet either fully recuperated or confronted.

Contact Wippl at 617-353-8992 or jwippl@bu.edu.

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