I don’t want a CIA that routinely waterboards, but I do think that there might arise a situation where torture might actually save some American lives and would have to be considered as an option. That is why you have an intelligence service and why the intelligence service gives the government “plausible denial” over actions that are nearly always illegal and often immoral. But the actions of a spy service should be proportionate to the threat, not a process of going around bumping off lots of people who might be thinking of something naughty. We appear to have lost that sense of proportion in our misguided GWOT.
So the rare use of waterboarding turns out to be 183 times on KSM alone. That our government authorized procedures that most of the world thinks to be war crimes is undeniable. The question becomes what kind of accountability should there be, if any. Should the guy who attached the electrodes be tried or the guy who ordered the electrodes to be attached? There is no simple answer to that, but much of the information now coming out goes beyond disturbing. The NYT article detailing how the torturers went about their work complete with visitors from CIA headquarters watching the procedure was chilling. And the torture went on in spite of the judgment of the local station chief in Thailand that the victim had no more information to give. Somehow the videotaping and record keeping is reminiscent of the meticulous records that the Soviets and Nazis kept on what they did to their victims. And the article also describes how the torture did not produce any usable information. So the whole thing was really idiotic. That we engaged in war crimes for nothing would seem to be the only possible conclusion and the senior officers and White House people who drove the process should be held accountable for being stupid if for nothing else.
I for one would like to know how this happened. We need to know more about the torturers, the doctors who assisted, and the senior officers who approved the procedures. What could possibly have been going through their heads to justify what they were doing and what did they think they would achieve? I don’t think people should be lined up against a wall and shot (with the possible exception of George Tenet), but there must be some accountability in all of this so that everyone will understand what was gained and what was lost by walking down that road.
Alternatively, the appointment of an independent investigator would enable both the government and CIA to have an opportunity to demonstrate that torturing people did save thousands of American lives, as has often been asserted without any evidence whatsoever. If they can make that case, then we as a country can possibly start a genuine debate on what we should be doing or not doing in the name of national security.