Thursday, December 18, 2014

Reading About CIA Interrogation Methods Sort of Felt Like Torture

I know, I know. I'm running a tad behind on the news. I just moved to a different part of the country and I'm still getting settled in, so please cut me some slack on catching up here. I heard about the Senate's report on the CIA's detention and interrogation methods last week, and I have wanted to comment ever since, even if briefly.

After 9-11, things haven't been the same with the way the United States approaches national security. Fortunately, we didn't become a police state (Thank G-d!), but at the same time, it became easier to justify doing things in the name of national security, and what's worse is that most Americans are okay with their liberties being violated for security's sake. Didn't Benjamin Franklin say something about those who are willing to give up freedom for security deserve neither? I'm not just talking about starting two wars in the Middle East or passing the Patriot Act. The Senate's report shed a lot of light on what was taking place in the world of intelligence gathering. The CIA's interrogation techniques included "wallings," sleep deprivation, threatening the detainee's family with bodily harm, and the ever-infamous waterboarding.

There's the ethical question of whether we should be torturing people in the first place. There are those who are absolutely opposed in violating one's human rights to acquire national security intelligence. Proponents can certainly provide an extreme enough of a hypothetical where one would be inclined to reluctantly acquiesce, at least from a utilitarian perspective, to the violation of international law if the situation were that dire. Torture is akin to poison: "dosage matters." Given the information I presently have, I'm not quite convinced that the risk were so high that we need to use such methods. The problem with national security issues is that classified information and security clearances cause such an information asymmetry that only the top echelon would have adequate information to assess who is a threat and who is not. Objectively, we cannot know how deep the rabbit hole goes.

However, let's give the CIA the benefit of a doubt for a moment, and let's say that using torture to obtain pertinent national security information is reasonable, and let's also assume that the detainee actually has pertinent information to divulge. The intuition behind torture as an intelligence gathering method seems sound. You put the detainee through physical and psychological pain to get him to talk because he can't take the pain any longer. It has been done for centuries, so it's not like the intuition is anything new. Perhaps there is enough of a gradation in the quality and quantity of interrogation techniques where the CIA is justified in its actions. The problem is what the report illustrates, which is such interrogation methods are counterproductive, which makes intuitive sense, especially if they're just saying what the interrogators want to hear. The CIA has even admitted that at least up until 2013, it had no way of assessing effectiveness of its interrogation methods. If the interrogation methods don't provide the CIA with the information they require in the first place, what good is torture? The lack of oversight from either the legislative or executive branches, or even the CIA's Office of Inspector General for that matter, does not help with situation, either.

I'm about ready to head to work, so although I can say more, I really need to summarize my thoughts. Unsurprisingly, people criticize these methods. Proponents point out that we're nothing like China or North Korea. While it is true that America's methods are mild in comparison to the Middle Ages, if we are going around the world trying to promote democratic values, then America needs to "walk the walk" and act upon what it preaches as a matter of policy. I'm not here to say that America shouldn't have any counterterrorism measures whatsoever. There certainly is room to have a conversation on what the CIA's role should be in providing the social good of national security. What I am trying to say is that if the CIA is to have an active role in national security, the policy alternatives to improve the situation should be done tactfully, with accountability, and should be implemented with a greater context of the threat's overall risks in mind. We should expect the highest quality of governance from all bureaucratic agencies, and national security organizations like the NSA or the CIA are no exception. I hope that this report is a stepping stone to implementing some real national security reform.

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