One of the stories I have been following with some regularity of late is the ongoing debate over the amount of material the Obama administration should release relating to the Bush administration’s torture policy. It now appears the CIA and the DOJ are offering contrary arguments to the President, with AG Eric Holder favoring larger transparency while CIA head John Brennan requests that fewer materials be released. As you might imagine, Brennan and the company are citing national security as the rationale for maintaining the documents’ secrecy:
But top CIA officials and some in the White House argue that disclosing such secrets will undermine the agency’s credibility with foreign intelligence services…Intelligence officials also believe that making the techniques public would give al Qaeda a propaganda tool just as the administration is stepping up its fight against the terrorist group in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some former administration officials have also argued that releasing all the memos could help terrorists train to endure the most extreme interrogation techniques.
There are several elements of this line of reasoning I find to be utterly fallacious. First of all, the notion that providing an element of transparency and accountability to the CIA after eight years of lawlessness would “undermine the agency’s credibility” and “give al Qaeda a propaganda tool” is just laughable.
That ship has sailed.
As I recall, the core of the CIA’s “policy” regarding “enhanced interrogation techniques” has already reached the public discourse. Between Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the appearance of “waterboarding” in the American lexicon, the international community has already developed a very strong opinion on the CIA’s “credibility.” As for the idea that releasing specific techniques would give “give al Qaeda a propaganda tool,” I don’t believe they’re in need of any more material. Lynndie England’s photo-shoot alone provided more than enough images for their 2009 “Thinking of Martyrdom?” pamphlet.
Advocates for maintaining these memos’ confidentiality have also argued that revealing the CIA’s methods “could help terrorists train to endure the most extreme interrogation techniques.” Aside from the simple fact that they are “now-abandoned Bush-era tactics” that have been condemned by Eric Holder, the record shows these methods—which were evidently unknown to alleged terrorists—not only provided little to no genuine intelligence, but actually elicited false information on several occasions. What else would you expect when you implement techniques that Chinese communists used to extract intentionally fabricated confessions? In other words, prisoners such as Abu Zubaida not only withstood the harsh treatment without specifically “training” for said techniques over a long period of time, but ultimately provided false leads that misled our intelligence community.
In reality, the only manner in which the CIA can regain its credibility (read: it has none), is to allow a full report to emerge enumerating the different methods of torture the Bush administration allowed to be implemented. The propaganda war has already been lost with respect to these policies. The only manner in which that can be even marginally reversed is to conduct a full investigation and offer an international demonstration of due process and the rule of law. If we continue to harbor a 24/Jack Bauer fantasy of blindly assuming the CIA’s undisclosed methods are humane and legal—a netherworld in which Gestapo Captain Marc Thiessen still comfortably resides—we will never re-establish any credibility for the CIA’s intelligence community or reverse our fortunes in the “propaganda” war.