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Sunday, October 23, 2016

WASHINGTON — Can we now say with confidence that our government will not use torture again and that Americans in the future will rise up to prevent it from doing so? In light of the reaction to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, I fear that we can’t.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein persisted in releasing the document in the face of opposition from the CIA and attacks by some of her colleagues because she felt a moral calling. The 81-year-old California Democrat believed she had an obligation to leave behind a sturdy ethical roadblock to the use of extreme brutality in pursuit of information — even information seen as potentially saving American lives.

“There are those who will seize upon the report and say ‘see what the Americans did,’ and they will try to use it to justify evil actions or incite more violence,” she said on the Senate floor. “We can’t prevent that. But history will judge us by our commitment to a just society governed by law and the willingness to face an ugly truth and say ‘never again.'”

Yet what might have been a moment of national reflection immediately turned into what everything becomes these days: a carnival of partisanship. Making the truth public, Feinstein’s critics argued, could endanger our nation.

“She will have to live with the consequences,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who becomes chair of the Intelligence Committee next year, said darkly.

A moving exception was Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who has denounced torture in season and out. His biography as a prisoner of war has been a standing rebuke to those who choose to play down the consequences of these techniques for our own men and women in uniform. He dismissed the idea that the report itself would be responsible for new attacks on Americans. “Violence needs little incentive in some quarters of the world,” he said. Terrorism should be blamed on terrorists, not Feinstein.

The real objection to the release of the report, McCain argued, was that it calls into question the claims by defenders of these techniques that they produced vital information. “We gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer,” he said. “Too much.”

One would like to think that this is now a consensual view, and it is the formal position of our government. But the pushback against Feinstein makes clear that many involved in “the program,” as they so delicately call this departure from our own norms, would do it all over again. John McLaughlin, former CIA acting director and deputy director, took to the pages of The Washington Post to list the intelligence breakthroughs of the interrogators. McLaughlin also joined with five other former CIA directors and deputy directors in a Wall Street Journal piece that denounced the Senate report as “a poorly done and partisan attack.”

But condemning the report as “partisan” is a way of evading its implications. If the issue is partisan, why did President Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan, defend the agency by declaring that “EITs” — that would be enhanced interrogation techniques — “did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives”? What’s striking here is the bipartisan unity among intelligence officials.

My friend and Washington Post colleague Michael Gerson saw partisanship in the committee’s focus on the CIA interrogations that took place under President George W. Bush, but not on the drone program, which Obama has embraced and expanded. Gerson is right to note that many who oppose torture are also concerned about the extensiveness of the drone program and I, for one, would have no objection to Congress investigating the ethical and practical problems it raises.

But legitimate questions about drones do not discredit either this legitimate inquiry into the use of torture or the obligation that Feinstein and her fellow committee Democrats felt to bear witness.

Defenders of the CIA make a point that should unsettle all of us because it’s true: In the wake of 9/11, the country was so scared that it tolerated or at least entertained a variety of extreme steps to protect our security, including torture. By November of 2001, there was already a public debate about the legitimacy of torture, even if brave voices (the blogger Andrew Sullivan has been admirably persistent) pushed back in those dark times.

Feinstein, McCain and their allies are hoping they can draw a line now that can strengthen such voices in the future. I wish that the response to their efforts inspired more certainty that their line will hold.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is [email protected] Twitter: @EJDionne.

Photo: Senate Intelligence chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (c) speaks to reporters about the committee’s report on CIA interrogations at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on December 9, 2014 (AFP/Saul Loeb)

  • tranz2deep

    I’m going to say it–the Bush Administration wanted America to be more terrifying than the terrorists, so they committed acts of torture, crimes against humanity.

    • latebloomingrandma

      Yes, I guess we showed that we can be just as depraved as the best of them. All that does is make our speeches on “human rights” ring hollow.

  • FT66

    I watched the interview which was carried by Bret Baier (Fox News) interviewing Dick Cheney last night. Boy! Bret Baier is superb. He really knows his work. He prepared all concrete questions needed to be answered, though he seemed reluctant to grill Cheney. As one expert on these issues who watched as well has put it, he said people in The Hague need to send a Christmas Card to Bret Baier. He said, he has made their work much easier as everything which Cheney said is taped. He contiued to say, it doesn’t matter how much years or decades it will take, so long Cheney and Bush are alive, one day they will appear in front of the judges to answer their crimes against humanity.

  • oldtack

    May Justice prevail. Nothing more sharp edged than the spoken word when it is recorded on tape.

  • Alvin Harrison


    Every sports team and even individual athletes, have a “go to play”. They have that one tried and true play that usually works for them. In a tough spot, that play will usually move the ball, surprise and/or demoralize the opponent, and give your team a chance to recover and get back in the game. Individual athletes have that spin, twirl, punch or something that is their “ace in the hole” that many times turns defeat into victory. “The go to play”. Sometimes it can be a person…then it is “the go to guy”…even women’s sports team have a “go to guy”. That one rare athlete that can usually be counted on to deliver the goods.

    Our spy agencies and our government have a “go to play”, and like in sports, the opposition (us) knows the play but it still works. The spy agency/government go to play is called “the lie”. It does not require a “special teams” effort on their part to execute. Every member of their team is well versed in it’s execution. Sometimes it means sacrificing a team member, like the bunt, but most who are sacrificed are used to another sports team requirement….”taking one for the team”.

    The unfortunate thing, is that our home “teams” consider us the opposing team in the game of life in the USA. A sad and worrisome thing is that their “go to play” is illegal and cheating. The even sadder thing, is that we rarely assess penalty points when they trot out the play. Sometimes if they are flagrantly caught in the act of this cheating play, they will sacrifice a man, although we all know it was the coach that called the play. The coaches, you see are nearly untouchable, though some will get fired for the cheat, if big enough. However the real architects of the cheat culture of their team, the manager, rarely if ever faces any consequences.

    One reason they never face consequences is that the game is rigged. They pick and own the referees. That’s right, the impartial deciders of what is legal in the game are chosen by our “opposing team”. So we can yell and scream at the refs to throw a flag and are told to “walk it off”. In addition, our opposing team has the power to change the rules of the game, even mid game, when it suits them. So they always win….and we always lose.

    Our seemingly one option in this rigged game is not to play, but since we were “born” to play, this is not really an option. Or…we could use OUR “go to play”. The only reason we do not use it is because we have never practiced or tried using it. Members of our previous teams have used it. It is called the POWER PLAY. Like in hockey, it is a play where after certain grievous penalties, we have more players on the ice and in the game. In this game we ALWAYS have more players. But our team is undisciplined, never practices, are lazy,and is rife with jealousy and hatred for our team members. As a matter of fact, our team has just about every attitude problem you would NOT want your team to have. Plus, we have coaches that never inspire us to attend team meetings, let alone a manager to organize us.

    So I am afraid we are doomed to endless season after season of losing unless we change our game plan. Even if you decide you do not want to play, you can’t get out of the game. Well there is one way off our team….DIE.

  • simmss

    The most important thing about this 81 year over the hill woman is when is she going to spend a few bucks and buy a different outfit. A new color would also help. She is worth a fortune and she could get a nice outfit for under $100.00, or she could go to St. Vinnies. She has worn this rag for over twenty years.