No need to fret about the country sliding into unstoppable iniquity. We’re there.
That much became apparent yesterday when the U.S. Senate released a years-in-the-making secret report on allegations of the CIA torturing prisoners after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
There was little doubt about it being true even before the shocking report was released, but the gruesome and revolting details of what the CIA did to accused terrorists is beyond the pale, and until yesterday, beyond what the United States would ever allow or take part in. Not so long ago, it was our job to fight against such atrocities around the world, not partake and defend them.
Scores of prisoners were locked away in small boxes, subjected to weeks of sleep deprivation, water-boarded repeatedly and incessantly, physically abused, psychologically abused, threatened with their death and threatened with the death or sexual abuse of their family members. Despite the effort of many, and I mean many, to justify these heinous acts by calling them laughable euphemisms like “enhanced interrogation,” it was torture. It was sick.
The sheer depravity of what the CIA did, and how they lied about it to Congress, to the White House and to the American people, is mind boggling and chilling.
But that’s not even the worst of this sordid nightmare. About half of the U.S. Senate continues to deny that the CIA did anything wrong or inadvisable during the years that will become known as the darkest hours of our democracy. All but a few Republican senators deny what the CIA did was torture. And they insist that the torture they deny the CIA did was productive in providing information that staved further terrorist attacks and even led to the location and killing of Osama Bin Laden. The continue to promote this even though it’s irrefutable by the evidence that, just like experts agree, torture does not provide credible, valuable intelligence. It only provides trouble.
Here’s trouble, America.
The denial of the international crimes committed by the CIA, and the denial of the facts that torture did and does nothing to extract reliably vital intelligence, makes yesterday one of the saddest and most worrisome days in U.S. history.
Republicans chose petty politics over honesty and decency yesterday, and they made a pact with depravity that endangers every American life from this point forward. Members of the GOP in the Senate have aligned us with the North Koreans, the Soviets and other morally corrupt groups that live by a code that could be our undoing: justifying any means by the end.
Not all Republicans could go that far. Sen. John McCain, the only member of the Senate who can speak to the disgust of torture from personal experience, lambasted the CIA for what was made unequivocal in the 500-page report.
“I know, too, that bad things happen in war. I know in war good people can feel obliged for good reasons to do things they would normally object to and recoil from,” he said. “I understand the reasons that governed the decision to resort to these interrogation methods, and I know that those who approved them and those who used them were dedicated to securing justice for the victims of terrorist attacks and to protecting Americans from further harm. I know their responsibilities were grave and urgent, and the strain of their duty was onerous. But I dispute wholeheartedly that it was right for them to use these methods, which this report makes clear were neither in the best interests of justice nor our security nor the ideals we have sacrificed so much blood and treasure to defend.”
We are now the monsters we set out to undo in the world. We are the criminals we sacrifice so much to protect our country from. We tortured our enemies, and now we are justifying it, and we are trying to further cover it up, and we are lying about it.
It doesn’t get much worse than that.
We did not heed the warning of those like McCain, who know what they’re talking about when they say torture doesn’t work. Instead, it robs us of our credibility and superior position. It inspires our enemies to do the same to American soldiers and civilians. It would be difficult enough to maintain higher moral ground in condemning the unspeakable acts of terrorism that groups like the Islamic State, the Taliban and Al Qaeda carry out each week. But now that half of the legislative part of the government defends our corrupt and inhumane chamber of horrors, we have no credibility to demand that anyone else stop.
Yesterday was an opportunity to admit the CIA’s horrible, and in some ways understandable, mistake. It was a chance to apologize to the world for acting out of panic rather than good sense. But it was squandered by fools in the Senate. Instead, we sealed the country’s moral failure, drawing us perilously closer to a place most of America does not want to go. If we can’t put aside politics for something this grave and dangerous, there’s little else to hope for.