Some Thoughts on the Torture Report

Some Thoughts on the Torture Report December 11, 2014

ON TUESDAY, SENATE DEMOCRATS RELEASED DETAILS of the torture program authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration and perpetrated in the early years of last decade, in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C. and New York in September 2001.

I downloaded the report from the Web and have not finished reading it — after a few pages, I felt sickened enough that I could not continue. I also felt very angry.

It used to be taken as axiomatic — a moral “given” — that torture is always and everywhere wrong, and can never be used for any purpose. That door was firmly marked by a consensus of civilized opinion, “Do not enter.” But the actions of the Bush administration opened that particular door.

Rather than present detailed arguments against torture, let me quote directly from the report:

Conditions at CIA detention sites were poor, and were especially bleak early in the program. CIA detainees at the COBALT detention facility were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste.

Lack of heat at the facility likely contributed to the death of a detainee. The chief of interrogations described COBALT as a ‘dungeon.’ Another senior CIA officer stated that COBALT was itself an enhanced interrogation technique.

Quick comment: Putting aside the euphemistic “enhanced interrogation techniques” and so on, I would like to point out that the previous paragraph describes how agents acting on behalf of the United States essentially tortured a man to death.

At times, the detainees at COBALT were walked around naked or were shackled with their hands above their heads for extended periods of time. Other times, the detainees at COBALT were subjected to what was described as a ‘rough takedown,’ in which approximately five CIA officers would scream at a detainee, drag him outside of his cell, cut his clothes off, and secure him with Mylar tape. The detainee would then be hooded and dragged up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched.

And lest you think that only people whose guilt was certain were subjected to torture:

Although CIA records include no requests or approval cables, Abu Hudhaifa was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation. He was released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be.

Then there’s the account of the use of anal rape to express “dominance” over a prisoner:

Chief of Interrogations (name redacted) also ordered the rectal rehydration of KSM [that’s Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, identified in the 9/11 Commission Report as the “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks”]  without a determination of medical need, a procedure that the chief of interrogations would later characterize as illustrative of the interrogator’s ‘total control over the detainee.

That’s as much as I could stand to read in the report, which is almost 500 pages long.

There is a long-standing principle in Catholic moral philosophy that the ends do not justify the means. Another way of putting it is that it is never permissible to do evil that good may come of it.

While Khalid Sheikh Mohammed did terrible evil on 9/11 and was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans, that does not justify using techniques for which we hanged Japanese prison camp officials at the end of the Second World War.

There is a bit of dialogue from “A Man for All Seasons” that may lend some illumination on this dark subject:

William Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!

Thomas More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

Browse Our Archives