The Single Worst Argument About the Torture Report

We’re hearing a whole lot of terrible arguments against the release of the torture report, but this one enrages me more than anything: If we release the report, it will make people around the world hate us and they’ll start attacking Americans more often. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden is making that very argument:

The report is expected to be so controversial that Secretary of State John Kerry called Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-California to express concerns that its release could endanger American facilities, diplomats and intelligence officers abroad. Hayden echoed those same concerns, and also added it would be bad for all CIA personnel and key U.S. relationships in the fight against terrorism.

“First of all, the CIA workforce will feel as if it has been tried and convicted in absentia since the Senate Democrats and their staff didn’t talk to anyone actively involved in the program. Second, this will be used by our enemies to motivate people to attack Americans and American facilities overseas,” he said.

“Finally…there are countries out there who have cooperated with us on the war on terror at some political risk that are relying on American discretion. I can’t imagine anyone out there going forward in the future who would be willing to do anything that even smacks of political danger,” Hayden continued.

When all of this was going on, Hayden was the NSA director and a key adviser to President Bush. Did he ever, even once, express his concerns that if they actually tortured people it could lead to these bad results? He doesn’t say he did. But suddenly now he’s concerned that telling the truth will cause these Very Bad Things to occur. It’s the actual torture that causes these things, not the release of this report. Everyone already knows that we tortured people and it’s already been used to stir up anti-American hatred. This report just gives us details that we didn’t already have.

Daniel Larison demolishes this argument once and for all:

I would just add that many of the loudest opponents of releasing the report don’t normally think that “violence and deaths” from protests or terrorist attacks can ever be linked to U.S. actions overseas, and even if they accept that there is a link they don’t think that has any implications for what the U.S. should or should not be doing abroad. Changing a particular policy or avoiding an intervention all together in order to minimize the risk of attacks against Americans is normally portrayed by many of the same people as “giving in” to terrorism. Only now that there is minimal accountability for the illegal and abhorrent use of torture by our government are they moved to worry about what people in other countries might do in response.

It is extremely convenient for these people to discover the possibility that a report about past U.S. abuses might inspire outrage and even violence in response. There was no such concern among hawks about the foreign policy implications of torturing people when it was being done, and they expressed no similar worries that other U.S. actions would provoke violent responses. If one raises the possibility that aggressive U.S. actions in other parts of the world could have dangerous consequences for Americans later on, that is normally denounced as “blaming” America. Strangely enough, that doesn’t seem to apply when there is a chance of exposing our government’s egregious abuses to public scrutiny and having some small measure of accountability for those abuses.

Yep. This is all a ridiculous excuse for their real position, which is: This report makes us look like the immoral, criminal assholes we really are. Tough shit.

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  • eric

    Finally…there are countries out there who have cooperated with us on the war on terror at some political risk that are relying on American discretion. I can’t imagine anyone out there going forward in the future who would be willing to do anything that even smacks of political danger,” Hayden continued

    Good. If other countries will not join us in the future in torturing people, because they’re afraid we might reveal what they did at a later time, I consider that a feature not a bug. Hey look, we eliminated torture programs in multiple countries with a single report!

  • illdoittomorrow

    Former CIA director Michael Hayden: “First of all, the CIA workforce will feel as if it has been tried and convicted in absentia since the Senate Democrats and their staff didn’t talk to anyone actively involved in the program[…]”

    Won’t someone please think of the poor downtrodden CIA agents/employees/contractors/whatever they are?

    “Second, this will be used by our enemies to motivate people to attack Americans and American facilities overseas[…]”

    Completely unlike killing a few hundred thousand people, stomping their country’s infrastructure flat, letting former soldiers loot the country’s armouries, and propping up a fresh new dictator.

  • caseloweraz

    At the Washington Post, Daniel Denzer has <A HREF="http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/08/the-insane-narrative-you-are-supposed-to-believe-about-the-torture-report/"a very good takedown too.

    BTW: the report has apparently been released. I am trying to locate a downloadable copy. The UK Guardian has a link which is supposed to provide it, but does not work right now.

    See: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/live/2014/dec/09/cia-torture-report-released-senate

  • caseloweraz

    I find the kind of excuses Hayden and others are putting forth quite similar to the earlier condemnation of the New York Times for publishing a story on how the government target terrorist financial resources. I can imagine figurative light bulbs coming on in Jihadist heads all over the Middle East when they read this article. “Kul wahad! We never thought of this before.”

    It’s the same with stories about ELINT such as monitoring of cell phones by the NSA. No terrorist realized their cell phone calls made them vulnerable until some newspaper published a story about it, amirite?

    /rant

  • caseloweraz

    Got it. The link is here — direct link from the Senate Intelligence Committee. 525-page PDF. It takes longer to download than such documents normally do, no doubt because others are tapping in too.

  • http://anffyddiaeth.blogspot.co.uk Dylan Llyr

    Ed: What do you think about this piece by Anthony Romero of the ACLU? He says he’s coming round to the idea of pre-emptively pardoning the torturers, as a way of gaining some form of acknowledgement, at least, that crimes were committed. It’s a horrible idea, but given that actual prosecutions are simply not going to happen, would you be able to stomach such a step?

  • Alverant

    This doesn’t surprise me. It fits into the conservative memes of “We can do what we want provided we don’t get caught.” and “If we’re caught then it’s not our fault.” It’s like the Ag-Gag laws that effectively make it OK to do illegal things in slaughterhouses, but it is wrong to report them.

  • http://www.thelosersleague.com theschwa

    The CIA is right! Do not release it! It is just as bad as all those TV/newspaper reports of the police abuses in Fergusson and NYC! It is not the killing of unarmed black men that is the problem; it is the REPORTING of killing unarmed black men!! Stop reporting government wrongdoing!!111

  • Alverant

    #6 I’d need a bottle of stomach medicine, but yes. Provided that actual prosecutions for the crimes will not happen. I would hope that public pressure and outrage would do what prosecutors did not. It would be the best of a bunch of bad outcomes, but it’s still a bad outcome.

  • moarscienceplz

    Michael Hayden just disgusts me. I wish there was some way we could do to him what they did to Chuck Conners in the old Branded TV show – rip all the insignia off his uniform and force him to march out into the wilderness while we slam the gate shut behind him.

  • eric

    @6 – if the Chileans can pardon Pinochet and move on, I think we can pardon Bush II. I’m aware of how absolutely this sucks as a type it, but sometimes long-term stability and peace is not best served by full justice. I think some right-wingers would drool at the systematic change in our politics that would occur if a sitting Democratic administration prosecuted the former GOP president. They’d look at that and say, “hey, the Democrats just declared hunting season is open! Every time we win an election, the other party’s executive branch appointees get prosecuted and their judicial appointees get impeached. Every time we win the house, the losing party members get impeached…” and so on. We are already seeing some signs or mumbles from the GOP of this sort of political revenge-taking, but thankfully they have not actually pulled the trigger on an Obama impeachment or supreme court justice impeachment. Such things are still considered beyond the political pale; innaprorpreate, corrupt responses. I think however that if the Obama administration prosecuted Bush or Cheney, they would respond in this way. Such actions would no longer be beyond the political pale. And then such shennanigans would never stop. Every two years there would be politically-driven judicial revenge-taking. I’m aware this will probably be highly unpopular, but sometimes, its better for a country to merely give a symbolic or very limited punishment to past political crimes, and move on. Romero’s suggestion is a very sneaky way of doing that.

  • caseloweraz

    The report’s 525 pages are just the executive summary for a 6,700-page document, which is still classified. An Introduction and a list of conclusions can be found in the first 24 pages — 26 pages if you want the footnotes.

    Very little is redacted in those pages. But, as with Valerie Plame Wilson’s book Fair Game, some of the redactions are curious. For example, the report states that it uses letter designations such as “Country J” at the CIA’s request in order to avoid identifying countries “directly or indirectly.” Yet these letters are themselves redacted.

  • http://en.gravatar.com/mrupright Mr. Upright

    Didn’t Hayden also once argue that the 4th amendment didn’t require a warrant for “reasonable” searches? Apparently only unreasonable searches require a warrant. Try to unpack that Catch-22.

  • khms

    I thought I had some idea about what the US did.

    Turns out I was mistaken. That is because the CIA lied, lied, lied, to everybody, including to the White House, to the Senate, even to the CIA leadership. And not only about what they did (much worse than reported), who they did it to (the reported numbers seem to have been cooked), but also about how successful it was (not successful, at all).

    What’s more, they didn’t do the dirty deed themselves: no, they outsourced it!

    Words fail.

  • http://Reallyawakeguy.blogspot.com somnus

    @12. The reason they redact even the anonymous internal identifiers is to try and prevent readers from realizing that there are actors who are heavily involved in a systematic pattern of abuses (even if those actors are unidentified). They don’t want people to be able to piece together things like “Hey, this ‘F’ guy who participated in 80% of the torture is the same guy who authorized 90% of the other torture. Shouldn’t he be identified and prosecuted?”

  • howardhershey

    As has been mentioned by others, if President Obama uses his pardon power to pardon G.W.Bush, Dick Cheney, and other war criminals, the Republican Congress will sue him and assert that he is being an unconstitutional tyrant without the Constitutional authority to pardon them. 😉

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Dylan Llyr @ # 6: … the idea of pre-emptively pardoning the torturers, as a way of gaining some form of acknowledgement, at least, that crimes were committed.

    Look at how well Ford’s pardoning of Richard Nixon prevented later presidents from illegal wiretapping!

  • http://drx.typepad.com Dr X

    What Eric said at 11 is a concern to me. I’ve wondered if the reason Obama didn’t go after Bush/Cheney is that he would fully expect Republicans to find some way to prosecute him for serious crimes when he leaves office. I know. Don’t be so sure that they wouldn’t try before he leaves office, even without his going after Bush/Cheney.

  • Anri

    Has any right-winger made the argument that the reason the report was so heavily redacted was to hide the (no-doubt numerous) real successes of the Torture Program – that this edited report is just a double-blind for all of the Good Work the CIA is actually doing in The Name Of Freedom?

  • parasiteboy

    Anri@19

    Not that I know of, but I have read that the report is skewed b/c only the dems on the committee signed off on it. The republicans will release their own version sometime in the future

  • parasiteboy

    re: my comment @20

    The republicans and the CIA have released their own reports. Links to them are at the bottom of this BBC article.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    It was a pleasant shock to hear John McCain supporting this report — and pretty much renouncing all of the pro-torture bullshit he spouted from 2001 until very recently. If THAT McCain had run for President in 2008, he would have won.

  • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    “It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?”

  • caseloweraz

    Parasiteboy: The republicans and the CIA have released their own reports. Links to them are at the bottom of this BBC article.

    There’s also a Web site, that obviously was created well in advance, linked in the article: “CIA saved Lives.”

    The article, of course, is about what you would expect from the WSJ — and so are most of the 957 comments.

  • caseloweraz

    Raging Bee: If THAT McCain had run for President in 2008, he would have won.

    Not with Sarah Palin as his running mate. But of course that McCain would have picked someone else.