A tortured report

Dec 17, 2014 at 4:23 pm
A tortured report

Serendipitous that the CIA torture report came out the week before LEO’s Louneyville, because the reaction has been nothing short of looney, and nothing less than shameful. A $40 million, 6,700 page report, which took more than five years to develop, and this is the debate our country is having? 

The most disappointing revelation to come out of this report, and subsequent national fervor, is that the two sides are not even debating the same issue. One side has turned beet red, screaming that this is a partisan attack on the Americans we asked to defend us. The other is standing high in its ivory tower, telling everyone how America has to be better than this. I contend that the American public is not to blame for this reactionary, over-politicization of an investigation, but rather the immature and incompetent media. 

The media only knows one way to debate: 50-50, I’m on this side, you’re on that side, and nuance is for flip-floppers. To make matters worse, for each side, there is a media outlet that thrives on our personal, political tendencies. So conservatives watch their debate on Fox, liberals watch their debate on MSNBC, and neither is fair or balanced. This is nothing we don’t already know to be true. But what the debate over the Senate Intelligence report has demonstrated to me is that we are not even engaged in the same debate.  The response of those, mostly conservatives, who are outraged about the release of this report are too passionately opposed to breathe and consider anything about its substance or intent. Liberals, (mostly) in support of the report, are overzealously remarking how right we were, how America is better than this, and how George W. Bush ruined our country. 

Diane Feinstein, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Intelligence, which conducted the investigation into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, should be criticized for a number of flaws with the report. That said, she also deserves an apology from the countless people and pundits who never bothered to consider the purpose of the report before raging into a debate. And obviously nobody has bothered to read the 600-page executive summary — the 6,700-page full report remains classified.

The blind critics, predominantly from the right, have been too defensive from the moment the report was released to provide truly objective analysis. They turned immediately to the following criticisms: It was a partisan, one-sided report; the timing was bad; they didn’t interview CIA officers or directors; we need to put the findings in the context of the times (post-9/11); there are no recommendations provided; it was a witch hunt; the entire investigation was conducted to fit preconceived conclusions.

My response: Yes. That’s pretty much correct.

Yet, defenders of the report, predominantly liberals, need to stop responding by arguing about the non-efficacy of torture. We need to stop personally targeting CIA Director John Brennan as the root of all things wrong. Liberals (and conservatives) should at least read the 20-point findings portion, as well as Feinstein’s foreword to the report, before jumping into the circus. If you would read this brief section of the report you would realize that it is  flawed. And yes, most of those criticisms are fair. But you would also realize that according to the initial intent of the investigation, it was successful. 

We know America tortured prisoners after 9/11. We know we were not prepared to operate these detention centers, nor did we have a plan for dealing with captured prisoners. But what we did not know is how profoundly flawed the CIA interrogation program was, and to what extent they operated autonomously — discovering and exposing this was the intent of the investigation. It is not unprecedented, unusual or anything less than appropriate for the chair of a Senate committee to determine the focus, terms and pretext of an investigation. If so, let’s start with the litany of witch hunts by Darrell Issa in the House (i.e. Benghazi). 

Feinstein was not out to politicize the torture program, she was not out to embarrass the CIA, and she was not out to produce recommendations. Through our long extensive history of wrongdoing, we have excelled at saying we were wrong and that we are going to do better the next time. While still not perfect, there is no question we conduct ourselves internationally better today than we did in Vietnam, World War II or anytime in our history. 

The report was flawed in many ways. If the intent was to start a national discussion, and this is the debate that we get, then by definition it was a failure. The media is certainly a culprit for its handling of the release and ensuing debate. But a Senator with the experience of Feinstein should understand how a report like this will be received by the public, media, and her colleagues. It is her responsibility to do a better job of explaining the intent of the investigation, as well as protecting the report from its natural predators. 

Perhaps then, we — and the media — can at least agree what the debate is about.