It’s that time of year: the kids are coming home, the stockings are hung by the chimney with care, and our favorite football teams are playing for a wild-card spot. I wish everyone reading this the merriest holidays for you and yours; but I would like to talk for just a minute about something serious. I’d like to talk to you all about fear.
On September 11th, 2001 the United States of America changed in immeasurable ways; out of pain, confusion, and most of all fear. On that day in September, I was in second grade at St. Mark’s School in Catonsville MD, about forty minutes from Washington D.C. and the Pentagon. I don’t recall what I considered fear to be before but ever since then the high-water mark of fear in my life has been that day in September.
In order to protect our way of life, and out of fear, we as a nation changed in whatever ways we deemed necessary to survive. It was out of this fear that the Central Intelligence Agency commenced their Detention and Interrogation program, which most Americans would identify as the torture programs ended by President Obama’s Executive Order 13491.
At the beginning of December, the summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program was declassified. This study, prompted in 2007 after the CIA’s destruction of interrogation videotapes under investigation by the Attorney General, is highly critical of the CIA’s actions in their Detention and Interrogation program. Included in the study are the gruesome and shocking details of the atrocities involved in the program, the lack of oversight and communication, and the general ineffectiveness of the program. While the entirety of the study (6,700 pages) remains declassified for the time being, the 500-page declassified Executive Summary contains more than enough information on the shortcomings and wrongdoings involved in the program.
Before 9/11/01 the CIA had concluded that torture programs were generally ineffective and could also produce bad intelligence. This same conclusion has been reached over a decade later by the Committee in their study; not only were the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” incredibly cruel, the quality and importance of the information gained through these techniques was repeatedly exaggerated and misconstrued by the CIA in their reports to The White House, Congress, the Department of Justice, and the American public. Much of the information gained through torture procedures was already available in the U.S. Intelligence Network, and most of the original intelligence gained through torture was either bad or non-useful.
Through the study it was also found that the CIA used methods of torture that were far more brutal than the ones laid out to The White House and the Legislature. The CIA officials leading the operations also repeatedly avoided and impeded internal, Congressional, and Executive oversight of the program.
The Executive Summary lays out twenty main findings and conclusions, supported with evidence and examples. The summary has been declassified and is readily available all over the Internet.
Because of the damning nature of the report, apologists have already come to the defense of the Central Intelligence Agency’s actions with the same arguments that were made in favor of torture in the first place: the intelligence that can be extracted is too vital and possibly life saving to ignore.
Fear is terrifying. It can freeze us, it can break us down, and most terrifying of all it can change us. I can still feel the stuffy, pervading sense of fear that engulfed the nation for years after 9/11, the same fear that still lingers in airports and crowded stadiums today. But I refuse to make exceptions and excuses on the basis of fear anymore, and I refuse to accept the “necessity” of inhumanity in the face of terror.
I was raised with the belief that we, the collective United States of America, are the good guys. But as I’ve grown up as a post-9/11 American it has become clear that the difference between the good guys and the bad guys is an ocean of doubt and grey. I’ve come to accept that, in such a complex and interrelated world, the lines between right and wrong are blurry. And while I believe the United States does its’ best to aim for the right side of the grey, some aspects of our national conduct certainly do not fall into the grey category.
Truthfully, I had never considered the CIA torture programs to be completely unnecessary, and I had bought into the notion that the information was too valuable to ignore and impossible to extract otherwise. But earlier last week, I sat down for an hour and read the report. In light of the findings, my mindset changed drastically.
The Executive Summary of the report is available for all to see, and I hope that every citizen of the United States reads it. The truth is, there is no grey area in this circumstance. Not only was the intelligence gained not as vital as we’ve been led to believe, the methods used to extract the intelligence betrays every core value to our nation that we hold so dear. For almost a decade, we allowed our nation to become unimaginably cruel and inhumane out of fear.
It is our responsibility, as civilians in the Home of the Brave, to shed our paralyzing fear in order to reclaim our stake as the Land of the Free. A systematic operation of inhumane torture in clandestine prisons hidden inside undisclosed countries is not a “good guy” action.
Still, it would be easy for this report to get lost in the flurry of the holidays, the racial tensions surrounding Ferguson and New York, and the NFL Playoffs. It is our responsibility as free citizens to not lose sight of this report, to read this report, and to formulate personal opinions on its implications.
We’ve come a long way since 2001, and as a nation we are on the road back to where we once were. When my kids grow up, I hope that they’ll have no question as to who the good guys are. It’s up to us to answer that question for them now.
Thank you, and have a Happy Holidays.