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CIA director John Brennan Photo illustration: DonkeyHotey / Flickr via Creative Commons

Successful intelligence gathering through interrogation and other forms of human interaction by conventional means can be – and more often than not are – very successful. But, even though interrogation by less conventional methods might get glorified in popular culture – in television dramas like Law and Order: Criminal Intent, 24 and The Closer and movies like Zero Dark Thirty – torture and the mistreatment of detainees in the custody of intelligence personnel is, was and shall continue to be unethical and morally wrong. Under US law, torture and mistreatment of detainees is also very illegal.

Even the most junior level intelligence officials know that this is, and has been, the case for decades.…  Seguir leyendo »

Did the Torture Report Give the C.I.A. a Bum Rap

In December, when the Senate Intelligence Committee issued its long-awaited report on the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program, it seemed to confirm what I and many human-rights advocates had argued for a decade: The C.I.A. had started and run a fundamentally abusive and counterproductive torture program. What’s more, the report found that the C.I.A. had lied repeatedly about the program’s efficacy, and that it had neither disrupted terror plots nor saved lives.

The report continues to reverberate. Human-rights groups are calling for a special prosecutor to investigate Bush-era officials who authorized torture. The first C.I.A. officer to publicly discuss the practice of waterboarding, who was later imprisoned for leaking classified information, was recently released and says he was the victim of a politicized prosecution.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Barack Obama has made it clear since taking office that no one will be punished for torture.

As I have repeatedly written before, that’s reprehensible. But what about compensating torture victims?

According to the recent report issued by the U.S. Senate Intelligence committee, torture under the Bush administration was more brutal and widespread than previously understood.

According to CIA torturers themselves, many of the victims were as innocent as innocence gets. For example, mistranslations of Arabic names led to the torture of people wrongly identified as anti-American militants.

A former State Department official under George W. Bush, Lawrence Wilkerson, admitted that the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention base was never filled with evil America-haters: “It became apparent to me as early as August 2002, and probably earlier to other State Department personnel who were focused on these issues, that many of the prisoners detained at Guantanamo had been taken into custody without regard to whether they were truly enemy combatants, or in fact whether many of them were enemies at all.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Senate Intelligence Committee's "torture report" has reignited national debate on "enhanced" interrogation techniques. At the heart of this debate is the question: Do these methods work to prevent terrorist attacks?

Much of the American public seems to believe they do. Since the time the CIA's program was in force, and even now, national surveys have indicated that a majority of Americans say the use of torture is justified when it is used against suspected terrorists who may know details about future attacks. But is belief in the effectiveness of severe interrogation methods really what motivates support for those methods? Or is there a darker psychological motive?…  Seguir leyendo »

No excuse for tolerating torture

I am tolerant. I have Republican friends. When racists speak in my presence, I don’t smash them in the jaw. I try to change their minds. Many of my close friends and relatives believe in God, which is wrong and therefore stupid, yet I don’t consider them stupid — just mistaken. America, I believe, must create and maintain the space where a multitude of points of view can thrive.

But there are limits. Not every opinion should be tolerated. If you think torture is OK — under any circumstance, for any reason — you are dangerous. If you believe that “they” had torture coming because “they” attacked “us” on 9/11, or because “they” chop off “our” heads, you are psychotic and sociopathic and should not be free to walk the streets, much less sit on juries or vote or drive a car or hold a job that a perfectly sane unemployed person needs.…  Seguir leyendo »

Secretary of state John Kerry tried to suppress publication of the CIA torture report, citing fears of a blowback against US targets in the Middle East. But the truth is that the region barely flinched in response to the publication of the 528-page document.

Almost all state-run media in the region ignored the report entirely, keen to play down their complicity in rendition programmes and their own rampant use of torture in domestic prisons. And the public in Arab countries took the revelations simply as confirmation of facts that they had long believed to be true. That the report has prompted such uproar in the US is comic to a region that expects dastardly behaviour from the US.…  Seguir leyendo »

The primary international treaty against torture, the Convention against Torture, which the United States ratified in 1994, contains two key requirements. First, it bans torture, without exception, as well as other inhumane treatment. Second, it requires that torturers be prosecuted.

President Obama has been firm in stopping torture. On his second day in office, he ordered an end to the Bush administration’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” — a euphemism for torture — and the closure of the secret CIA detention centers where torture was carried out.

But Obama has utterly failed in the second requirement. He has flatly refused to investigate the torture, let alone prosecute those responsible.…  Seguir leyendo »

While others will sharply disagree, I believe John Brennan deserves a national salute for his press conference yesterday about the CIA.

At a time when we are tearing ourselves apart over one controversy after another, he provided a model of a calm, adult leader trying to put the country first.

No doubt there will be counterattacks trying to blow holes in his story. Maybe there are some. But we sorely needed someone to come forth with views that are more balanced and impartial than a tragically one-sided report released this week by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

There were half a dozen aspects of the Brennan press conference that were welcome:

For starters, he placed the interrogation program into a context that too many are forgetting.…  Seguir leyendo »

I spent this semester teaching creative writing at Lehigh University. I’ve been a soldier, a police officer and an interrogator. So hearing students call me “Professor” and assigning homework was a significant change of pace.

But the course’s title, Writing War, kept me from straying too far from the memories that have haunted me over the last decade. I am grateful to Lehigh for the opportunity to teach the course. The school’s willingness to put a veteran in the classroom is the very thing this country needs to be doing in order to collectively process what the last 13 years of war have wrought.…  Seguir leyendo »

Before President George W. Bush left office, a group of conservatives lobbied the White House to grant pardons to the officials who had planned and authorized the United States torture program. My organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, found the proposal repugnant. Along with eight other human rights groups, we sent a letter to Mr. Bush arguing that granting pardons would undermine the rule of law and prevent Americans from learning what had been done in their names.

But with the impending release of the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have come to think that President Obama should issue pardons, after all — because it may be the only way to establish, once and for all, that torture is illegal.…  Seguir leyendo »

As the world awaited the US Senate report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation programme under the George W Bush administration, there was very little introspection in Europe. As if European countries had nothing to do with what went on in the hunt for al-Qaida in the years after 9/11. In fact, many of America’s European allies were deeply involved in the CIA programme. And they have managed to stay very quiet about it. Could this change now?

Under President Bush the CIA used a web of European airports and bases for its extraordinary rendition flights, secretly transferring terror suspects across borders for interrogation.…  Seguir leyendo »

Barbed wire fence surrounding a military area is pictured in the forest near Stare Kiejkuty village, close to Szczytno in northeastern Poland, Jan 24, 2014. The facility was allegedly used as a “black site” by the CIA. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

The publication of the long-awaited summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s torture provides a useful moment to consider the lessons learned from this sorry chapter in American history and the steps that might be taken to avoid its recurrence. With the truth now told about this blatantly illegal policy, President Barack Obama has a chance to reverse his misguided refusal to prosecute the officials who authorized the torture, ending the impunity that sets a horrible precedent for future United States presidents and governments worldwide.

There will undoubtedly be much debate about its finding that torture did not “work” — that it produced little if any intelligence of value that was not or could not have been obtained by lawful means.…  Seguir leyendo »

After a multi-year odyssey marked by almost nonstop partisan bickering, CIA employees hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers, and former Bush administration officials launching a pre-emptive public counterattack against the committee's report, we finally have a summary of the CIA's use of torture.

So what have we learned?

The committee report confirms that six days after the 9/11 attacks, "President George W. Bush signed a covert action Memorandum of Notification (MON) to authorize the director of central intelligence (DCI) to 'undertake operations designed to capture and detain persons who pose a continuing, serious threat of violence or death to U.S. persons and interest or who are planning terrorist activities.'"…  Seguir leyendo »

There has been a suggestion in recent days that now is not a good time to release a review prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee of the CIA's detention and interrogation program. But is there ever a good time to admit our country tortured people?

In the wake of 9/11, we were desperate to bring those responsible for the brutal attacks to justice. But even that urgency did not justify torture. The United States must be held to a higher standard than our enemies, yet some of our actions did not clear that bar. It is time to publicly examine how that happened.…  Seguir leyendo »

The killing of Osama bin Laden after a fierce firefight in his Abbottabad compound is a great victory for our military and intelligence forces and for our civilian leadership. But the handwringing about whether it looked as though bin Laden was reaching for a gun or suicide belt, as if this were some who-is-the fastest-gun-in-the-West movie, and about whether we violated Pakistani sovereignty by going in after him is risible.

As the code of war that Abraham Lincoln promulgated in 1863 — the first anywhere — made clear: “military necessity admits of all direct destruction of life or limb of armed enemies . …  Seguir leyendo »

Since November, Opinion has been publishing a series of articles on the challenges facing Barack Obama when he takes office. In the latest part of the series, contributors focus on how the incoming administration should deal with the legal legacy of the war on terrorism.

1) A Body of Inquiries. Not one truth commission, but many.

2) Forgive Not. Prosecute officials who authorized torture.

3) History's Verdict. In this instance, justice won't come via trials.

In the past eight years, our government has tortured people and spied on its own citizens. Administration lawyers created a series of secret laws to justify these activities. The Justice Department has been riddled with scandals alleging corruption, illegality and incompetence. What should the next administration do about these practices? Do we punish wrongdoing or discover the truth?

We should opt for the truth, for three reasons. First, we must restore America’s commitment to human rights by exposing and condemning our own abuses. Second, we must counteract the tendency toward secret laws that facilitate these violations. Third, we must create a public record of government misconduct as a lesson to future generations and a caution to future administrations.…  Seguir leyendo »

Instead of looking closely at what high-level officeholders in the Bush administration have done over the past eight years, and recognizing what we have tacitly permitted, we would rather turn our faces forward toward a better future, promising that 2009 and the inauguration of Barack Obama will mean ringing out Guantánamo Bay and ringing in due process; it will bring the end of waterboarding and the reinstatement of the Geneva Conventions.

Indeed, the almost universal response to the recent bipartisan report issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee — finding former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and other high-ranking officials directly responsible for detainee abuse that clearly rose to the level of torture — has been a collective agreement that no one need be punished so long as we solemnly vow that such atrocities never happen again.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the wake of the Abu Ghraib revelations, the White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2005 that “we care very much about finding out what happened and holding people accountable.”

There is now ample reason to believe that Mr. Gonzales was among those at the highest level of government who allowed Americans to engage in torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of those in our custody. Mr. Gonzales’s misleading and cowardly testimony certainly deprives him of any claim to our indulgence, but nonetheless neither he nor any of the others who participated in this abuse of detainees should be criminally prosecuted — not for their sakes but for the country’s.…  Seguir leyendo »