December 15, 2014 | Commentary on Intelligence, National Security and Defense

Context counts in assessing torture

You can argue the value of the public release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogation of terror detainees for the years 2001-2009 — and we certainly will — but here’s what bothers me.

First, it wasn’t a bipartisan report. The investigation was done by the majority (Democratic) staff without the participation of the minority (Republican) staff; it provides the views of that side of the aisle.

This opens the report to charges of being politically charged.

Then, how closely does the executive summary, which runs only 10 percent of the length of the entire report, hew to the full document?

The full report runs some 6,000 pages and the executive summary, though hefty, runs only about 600 with redactions. Due to the security clearances needed, how many people have actually read the entire 6,000-page report?

I’m guessing that it’s a very limited number.

I also want to hear from the CIA. If you’re arguing that this public airing is critical to who we are as Americans, Langley deserves its day in the court of public opinion.

For instance, the CIA insists that the interrogation program provided critical intelligence that was useful in getting Osama bin Laden and preventing terrorist attacks. The Senate report differs with that assessment.

OK, so why is there such a gap?

It’s also interesting to note that this report was done in hindsight. For example, does the report reflect on how difficult the decisions were on interrogation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack when another strike seemed credible?

Context counts.

Plus, I’m also worried about the possible impacts overseas. Places like the Middle East are in a lot of turmoil as a result of the “Islamist Spring” and the rise of a raft of terror groups like the Islamic State.

This report could put American lives (those of soldiers, diplomats and civilians) and interests in danger. The Pentagon reportedly put the troops overseas on high alert due to concerns about violence coming our way.

Some argue that the Islamic State and al-Qaeda already have the United States in their cross-hairs, so what’s the difference. That’s true in general, but will this report’s release help these groups find new foot soldiers, followers and funding?

The info in this document, especially with its lurid details, could prove a propaganda bonanza for existing or future terrorist groups — not to mention “lone wolves” who may be incited to violence by it.

This is a serious risk.

Moreover, this report may damage liaison relationships with intelligence partners who wonder if working with the Americans is too much of a headache, cutting off avenues to important information on terrorism.

Of course, the Senate should exercise oversight on the federal government, including the CIA and its activities, but do we really need to potentially — and clearly willingly — make the world more dangerous for us?

Have we forgotten we’re at war?

On balance, it’s hard to imagine how the release of an inflammatory, one-sided report will help Team Obama’s failing foreign and national security policy or make us any safer in these terribly troubling times.

 - Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Originally appeared in the Boston Herald