Scenes of prisoner abuses in Zero Dark Thirty, the Kathryn Bigelow film on the hunt for Osama bin Laden, have reawakened a debate over the United States’s use of torture that should have been fully and publicly vetted long ago.
Whether the Bush administration’s enhanced interrogations program, a.k.a. torture, “worked,” is the question being kicked around, as if that should matter in a nation committed to human rights.
Knowledgeable commentators have taken both sides. Jose Rodriguez Jr., who oversaw the agency’s counterterrorism operations at the time, says the harsh techniques elicited information that did contribute to locating bin Laden. Opposing that view are Michael Morell, acting CIA director, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who each blasted the movie as inaccurate and misleading.
Feinstein said a just-completed 6,000-page committee study highly critical of the CIA detention and interrogation program under President Bush demonstrates that information gained from mistreating prisoners did not play a significant role in finding bin Laden.
But since the report is classified, we can’t see for ourselves. You would think that once there is a blockbuster Hollywood movie depicting the CIA’s torture program, it’s no longer a secret. Releasing the report would be a valuable service by both clearing up these questions and as a “how could we go so wrong?” lesson.
The secrecy bespeaks a deep humiliation at how America reacted to the al Qaeda threat with CIA black-site prisons, extraordinary renditions and prisoner mistreatment. We don’t want to be reminded of what we did, whether it occasionally “worked” or not. In those dank cells, our once-proud principles of due process and the rule of law were reduced to rubble. Our self-image of the American character was indelibly stained.
Even the federal courts don’t want to go there. To keep innocent torture victims from suing, they have accepted fatuous claims asserted by both the Bush and Obama administrations that it would jeopardize national security.