William H. Taft IV, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, was legal adviser to the State Department from 2001 to 2005 and deputy defense secretary from 1984 to 1989.
The need for transparency in U.S. intelligence activities has drawn attention in Washington largely because of issues regarding surveillance and drones. But no one should forget that the Senate intelligence committee’s extensive review of the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program after 9/11 remains under wraps.
In an effort to keep Americans safe following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the government resorted to detention and interrogation policies that violated U.S. values and laws and compromised our moral leadership. Adopting torture and cruel treatment as U.S. policy had immeasurable consequences for the United States’ national security and global standing. Polls show that it also diminished a long-standing public consensus against the use of torture.
A full, public accounting of how U.S. government policies and practices failed is essential to understanding what went wrong and to prevent such abuse from happening again. The Senate Armed Services Committee confronted detainee abuse by the U.S. military and publicly released its report four years ago. That helped the Defense Department put in place procedures to ensure that the same abuses were not repeated. It is time for the CIA to open itself up to oversight and implement changes in order to emerge stronger.
Under the leadership of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence produced a report of more than 6,000 pages and 35,000 footnotes examining the CIA’s policies on the detention and treatment of prisoners in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the years that followed. It has been one year since the committee approved the report in a bipartisan vote.
Committee members should now vote in favor of releasing it to the public with appropriate redactions.
The American people deserve to know how torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of enemy prisoners, in violation of U.S. and international laws and standards, became U.S. policy. Until the report is publicly released, proponents of torture will continue to use the secrecy that surrounds the CIA’s detention and interrogation program to distort the facts.
The use of torture and cruel treatment hurt the United States on many levels. It damaged our moral credibility in the world, diminishing a huge asset in earning the trust and support of allies. It also places our troops in danger of being subjected to similar inhumane treatment by our enemies if they are captured.
Torture and cruel treatment are ineffective and produce unreliable information. Professional interrogators know that valuable intelligence can be gained without resorting to abusive methods.
That it remains debatable whether torture and cruel treatment yielded anything useful is an indication of the heavy cost the United States paid in exchange for so little.
The public release of the report would be a significant step in establishing the full truth of U.S. practices of torture and cruelty. Openly examining the consequences of those actions and assessing how serious errors in judgment became U.S. policy would better position us to avoid this ignoble path in the future.