The Great Debate
When the United States was attacked on 9/11, every member of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine services had a rule book on the conduct of interrogations. It was clear and concise.
So the CIA doesn’t consider “waterboarding” — mock execution by near drowning — to be torture, but the U.S. State Department does.
The publication of the long-awaited summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s torture provides a useful moment to consider the lessons learned from this sorry chapter in American history and the steps that might be taken to avoid its recurrence. With the truth now told about this blatantly illegal policy, President Barack Obama has a chance to reverse his misguided refusal to prosecute the officials who authorized the torture, ending the impunity that sets a horrible precedent for future United States presidents and governments worldwide.
President Barack Obama brought the U.S. commitment against torture into sharper focus on Wednesday. For a president who prohibited torture as one of his first official acts, this shouldn’t be news. But it is.
George Tenet, who presided over the CIA when terrorist suspects were waterboarded and subjected to other forms of brutal “enhanced interrogation,” has set himself a near-impossible task. He is leading an effort to discredit an impending Senate committee report expected to lay out a case that the intelligence agency tortured suspects and then misled Congress, the White House and the public about its detention and interrogation program.
The current fight between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA — each accuses the other of spying on it — is part of the deep, continuing struggle between the legislative and executive branches of government over the wide-ranging power of the intelligence agency in the post-9/11 world.
Controversy over the U.S. use of torture erupted again with the release of Zero Dark Thirty, the movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. President Barack Obama has now added fuel to this fire by nominating John Brennan, his chief counterterrorism adviser, to be CIA director.
As the Oscars approach, two of the most ambitious and remarkable Best Picture nominees — Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty — are reeling from criticisms that they are historically inaccurate. Though both are fiction, audiences, critics, commentators, scholars and even politicians are troubled that the movies don’t meet the standards of documentary or reported journalism.