Senator Richard Burr is acting like a man who doesn't understand the role or duties that he now has. With the Republican Party assuming control of Congress, the North Carolinian is chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, the body charged with overseeing the CIA. His responsibilities are momentous. All senators are called to act as power-jealous checks on the executive branch. And the particular mission of the Senate intelligence committee, created in the wake of horrific CIA abuses, obligates Burr to “provide vigilant legislative oversight over the intelligence activities of the United States" and "to assure that such activities are in conformity with the Constitution and laws.” But as Senator Burr begins this job, he is behaving less like an overseer than a CIA asset.
You may recall, from the dark days of Abu Ghraib, that there was a batch of photos that was never released—images the Pentagon deemed so inflammatory that they needed to stay under wraps. The ones we saw were disturbing enough: the piles of naked Iraqi prisoners, the soldier giving a thumbs up next to an ice-packed corpse, the prisoners being menaced by dogs. And who can forget that iconic shot of a hooded man (his name is Ali Shalil Qaissi), standing on a box in a shower with wires attached to his fingers—a mock execution. There are as many as 2,100 additional images, according to the ACLU, which sued the government in 2004 demanding their release. President Obama has resisted the legal efforts, noting in a statement that to make the photos public would "impact the safety of our troops."
The executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report is full of detail the American public deserved to see, and we learned a lot from Sen. Dianne Feinstein and her colleagues. The problem is that the report cuts off most responsibility with the CIA. As we learned nearly four decades ago, when I served as chief counsel for the U.S. Senate’s Church Committee’s massive investigation of U.S. intelligence agencies under six presidents—Franklin Roosevelt through Richard Nixon—it is extremely dangerous to let off senior officials in this way. Indeed it only risks increasing the likelihood of future use of torture if there is a new calamity like 9/ll.
As many of us wade through the horror of the Senate torture report, it’s hard not to think back to a time when the man who ran the country explained to us in plain language what he was doing. I’m talking about Vice President Dick Cheney, of course, the official who smoothly seized the reins of power after 9/11 and guided national security policy throughout his eight years in office. He was one of the most adept bureaucratic players American politics has ever produced and it’s his doctrine, not the Bush Doctrine, that spurred government actions from the very beginning. It was called the One Percent Doctrine and according to author Ron Suskind it went like this:
The Senate Intelligence Committee report released this week found that the CIA tortured terror suspects by, among other things, putting hummus in a man's anus, forcing suspects to stand on broken feet, and blasting detainees with songs such as "Rawhide" at loud volumes on repeat. Many of the interrogators' actions were shocking and cruel, but some might argue (and some have argued) that torture is a necessary tool for extracting information. This, too, is dubious. The Senate investigation revealed that the CIA learned most of the valuable intelligence it gathered during this period through other means.
On Tuesday morning, the Senate intelligence committee released an executive summary of its five-year investigation into the CIA's interrogation and detention program. (Read the executive summary here.) Among the report's most striking revelations is that CIA interrogators were often untrained and in some instances made up torturous techniques as they went along.
CIA Director John Brennan said on Thursday that some agency officers used "abhorrent" interrogation techniques and said it was "unknowable" whether so-called enhanced interrogation techniques managed to get useful intelligence out of terrorism suspects. "I have already stated that our reviews indicate that the detention and interrogation program produced useful intelligence that helped the United States thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives," Brennan told a news conference at the agency's Virginia headquarters.
It took years until the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report — which shows not only that the CIA’s torture regime was larger and more vicious than understood, but that the agency repeatedly lied about it to the White House and Congress — was finally released to the public. But it only took hours before President Obama was once again urging the nation to look forward, not back. “Rather than another reason to refight old arguments,” read a White House statement, “I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong — in the past.” When members of the media asked whether that meant the White House considered torture to be ineffective, as the report claims, an anonymous official said Obama would not “engage” in the ongoing “debate.