Speaking only for myself and not for my colleagues at IWF, I want to comment on Peggy Noonan’s column on the report issued by Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Intelligence Committee. Noonan seems to be more disturbed by enhanced interrogation techniques used on select stateless terrorists avid to kill Americans than I am. It is not a pleasant idea, but I believe that a moral case can be made for enhanced interrogation techniques.
But what Peggy does capture today in her column is that the black eye given the United States by the “torture” report released by Senator Dianne Feinstein may not heal for a long time, if ever:
Its overall content left me thinking of a conversation in the summer of 1988 with the pollster Bob Teeter, a thoughtful man who worked for George Bush’s presidential campaign, as I did. I asked if he ever found things in polls that he wasn’t looking for and that surprised him. Bob got his Thinking Look, and paused. Yes, he said, here’s one: The American people don’t like the Japanese.
It surprised him, and me, and I asked what he thought it was about.
He didn’t think it was economic—he saw in the data that Americans admired Japan’s then-rising economy. He didn’t think it was World War II per se—he didn’t find quite the same kind of responses about Germany. We were quiet for a moment, and then our minds went to exactly the same place at the same time: Japanese torture of American soldiers in the Pacific war. The terrible, vicious barbarity of it. When the war ended, American boys went home, and the story of what they’d seen, experienced and heard filtered through families, workplaces and VFW halls. More than 40 years later, maybe it was still there, showing up in a poll.
It was just our guess, but I think a good one. A nation’s reputation in the world will not soon recover from such cruel, systemic actions, which seemed to bubble up from a culture. You’ll pay a price in terms of the world’s regard.
This is one of the reasons, only a practical one, torture is bad. It makes people lose respect for you. And when you come most deeply to terms with it, it can make you lose respect for you, too.
I am not so sure that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques “bubbled up from a culture” as much as that these techniques were designed to be used on a limited number of terrorists who had time-sensitive knowledge that would save American lives. The authors of this report, however, were only interested in political advantage–or so it seems to me.
This report, so damaging to the United States, is thinly-sourced and so partisan that even prominent Democrat and former Senator Bob Kerrey issued a harsh critique:
What the report contains is believable but insufficient; it’s not the whole story, it’s part of the story. Those involved in the episodes outlined should have been interviewed, and were not. The investigation and report should have been conducted so that they could win full bipartisan involvement and support, and were not.
The most stinging critique came from Mr. Kerrey, a Democrat who served eight years on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which issued the report. In his USA Today piece he slammed the report’s partisanship: “I do not need to read the report to know that the Democratic staff alone wrote it.” The Republicans refused to take part “when they determined that their counterparts started out with the premise that the CIA was guilty and then worked to prove it.”
The purpose of the committee is “to stand above the fray and render balanced judgments,” but “this committee departed from that high road.”
Released on the eve of the Democrats’ departure from majority status and in the wake of a November election that was embittering to the Democrats, the report is unworthy. It is another chance, as Peggy and others have noted, to take a potshot at the George Bush administration, which did seriously grapple with the moral issues of enhanced interrogation. Tellingly, as Bob Kerrey pointed out, the report contains no recommendations. It didn’t get that far—it was just a partisan hack job and recommendations for reform were beyond the scope of its authors.
I think the Democrats may have miscalculated. President Obama was first elected to the presidency in 2008, a time when 9/11 fear was subsiding and it was possible to tell people that the United States had overreacted. The rise of ISIS and current state of the Middle East remind us that that fear was well-placed. Meanwhile, a partisan hit job has damaged the standing of the United States and this damage may last as long as we do.