The CIA tortured people. Just this past week Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Diane Feinstein felt the need to remind us of that fact.
Be assured- there is no doubt that what went on was torture. As best I can tell, Dick Cheney and his cronies contend that causing a prisoner extreme pain to obtain information is not torture if done with certain techniques. Would Cheney have any hope of getting answers if the pain were not significant? This is torture.
What’s most striking about the current report isn’t even the barbaric techniques, but the degree to which low-level CIA officials covered up their actions from their superiors. Both Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfield were only briefed on the matter in 2003, with President Bush receiving a briefing as late as 2006! At one point Dick Cheney got into a diplomatic spat when the CIA didn’t inform a covert facility in a country Cheney was visiting.
Torture, whatever its efficacy, is morally wrong. However, it is understandable that statesmen faced with a crisis might neglect their better judgment out of zeal to defend their country. In life everyone errs. What is absolutely inexcusable is for minor level officials to authorize extreme measures. Major ethical decisions must lie with statesmen. A military is only useful as a tool for bettering the lives of civilians; thus it must be those in the military, or in this case the CIA, whose prerogatives are defined by others. CIA officials cannot be allowed act on their own.
What this dark episode indicates is that the CIA has overstepped its boundaries, and needs to be reeled in. By all accounts, the agency has long stopped torturing others. However, the CIA does maintain a large fleet of armed drones and bases in parallel to those controlled by the Pentagon. This is not necessary for an intelligence agency. By transferring the role of military strikes entirely to the Department of Defense, the CIA would be better focused on its core mission of intelligence gathering.
The world is growing increasingly chaotic. In my blog, I address the current mess in the Ukraine and the complications resulting for western nations. An an area dominated by another world power, the use of drones takes on a decidedly more large scale and militarastic aura. The use of drones must be thought of in the context of war rather than cloak and dagger spying. It’s time for the CIA to return to its original role as a source of information.
Jeffrey Schulman is a second year student studying Classics at the University of Toronto.