- - Tuesday, December 9, 2014


The Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday released the results of the long anticipated investigation into the CIA’s detentions and interrogation techniques in the prosecution of the “war” on Islamic terrorism, and there’s something in it for nearly everyone.

The report — actually a 524-page executive summary of 6,000 pages of the complete report — is an indictment of the way the CIA imprisoned suspects and tried to pry secrets from them, often with harsh and macabre methods, and the timing of the release suggests that the Democratic Senate, which stumbles to an unmourned death at the end of the week, regards it as the last chance to strike one last blow at the administration of George W. Bush.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee who sometimes blows hot and sometimes cold on what to do about terrorism, was ready with a lengthy speech decrying what the committee found, and gave herself a resounding pat on the back for directing “an important step to restoring our values and showing the world that we are a just society.”

The Republicans could, and did, decry the timing as Democratic gasping while someone might still notice. Mr. Bush, who was described as not having been told about some of the mischief, nevertheless defended the men in charge of the intelligence services as “patriots,” though it’s not clear what patriotism had to do with what they did in the CIA’s “inquiry rooms.” Presiding over a bureaucracy hardly recalls Patrick Henry, Nathan Hale or the patriots in uniform who put their lives at the mercy of sacrifice.

The Democratic report said the directors in charge of the CIA during the six years covered by the investigation — George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden — repeatedly told both the White House and Congress in secret briefings that the information gleaned from the inquiry rooms was more valuable than it actually was. The current director of the CIA, John O. Brennan, says the interrogation program was both a teaching and learning experience for the intelligence agency, and the report is “an incomplete and selective picture of what occurred.” He has implemented “remedial measures” since then, he said.

It’s important to remember the uncertainty, the fear and the pressure on the intelligence agencies in the aftermath of September 11, a date like December 7, that will live in infamy. President Obama, a severe critic of Mr. Bush in that aftermath, nevertheless cautioned everyone yesterday to avoid an impulse of sanctimony in reading the report. The first responsibility of every president, of whatever political hue, is the safety and preservation of the nation, and sanctimony is often a major ingredient in the criticism of the men who must pursue evil men and foil their evil work.

Still, it’s difficult to argue with John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona and a man who learned something about torture and its limits in the notorious North Vietnamese prison the American prisoners called, with grim irony, “the Hanoi Hilton.”

“What might come as a surprise, not just to our enemies, but to many Americans,” he said, defending the report, “is how little these practices did to aid our efforts to bring 9/11 culprits to justice and to find and prevent attacks today and tomorrow. That could be a real surprise, since it contradicts the many assurances provided by intelligence officials on the record and in private that enhanced interrogation techniques were indispensable in the war against terrorism.

“I suspect the objection of those same officials to the release of this report is really focused on that disclosure, torture’s ineffectiveness, because we gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer. Too much.”

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