Last month, the Senate intelligence committee approved a 6,000-page report on the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” — that is, torture — in the U.S. war on terror. Although the report is classified, committee chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein said publicly that its review of millions of pages of documents led to an inescapable conclusion: As a tactic against al-Qaeda, torture had been not only ineffective but counterproductive.
The significance of this explicit, bipartisan rejection of the idea that torture works cannot be overstated. For a dozen years, apologists for torture have told Americans that it is necessary and effective. We now know that justification is false.
So the apologists have fallen silent or have turned to a new argument: torture as payback. The clearest expression of that argument appears in the new movie Zero Dark Thirty, an Oscar nominee for Best Picture.
The first half-hour of the movie, which is said to be based on actual events, suggests that the key initial leads in the hunt for Osama bin Laden came from torturing detainees. This propaganda is so misleading that Senators Feinstein of California and Carl Levin of Michigan, both Democrats, and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona wrote to Sony Pictures, which released the film, to seek adjustments. Acting CIA Director Michael Morrell has distanced the agency from the film’s false narrative.
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has denounced Zero Dark Thirty. I, and many others, urge Americans to boycott it.
The movie’s big lie will help encourage Americans’ acquiescence in government-sponsored torture — even when it is illegal and immoral, and does not work.
Criminal accountability among the high-level civilians who imposed this massive, worldwide torture regime remains elusive, with devastating consequences. This lack of accountability is hampering American efforts to encourage other countries to develop strong domestic institutions to punish horrific human rights abuses and war crimes.
Now President Obama has nominated John Brennan, his chief counterterrorism adviser, to head the CIA. A 25-year veteran of the agency, Mr. Brennan is on record favoring “extraordinary rendition” — the secret detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects abroad, without due process — and enhanced interrogation techniques other than waterboarding.
Mr. Brennan is clearly implicated in the torture regime put in place during George W. Bush’s administration. His role in this regime taints him and the country, and should not be glossed over out of some misguided sense of expediency, false patriotism, or relish for payback.
Exposing the torture regime remains essential. It is relevant to cases brought in U.S. courts by terrorism suspects that have been dismissed to protect state secrets, as well as in the 9/11 military commission hearings at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp that I am observing.
Protective orders that prevent news media from reporting on torture should not be allowed. Contrast this official silence with the publicity given the court-martial of Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier who is accused of illegally releasing classified U.S. documents to the Web site WikiLeaks. Media reports on Private Manning’s treatment in detention have been permitted, and Americans have been allowed to hear his reaction.
Our use of torture demeans America. We are not in the business of allowing our government to demean the country we love.
We must demand accountability of high-level civilians and military officers for their actions in the torture regime.
We must insist that the Senate intelligence committee report on torture be made public.
The Senate must hold meaningful public hearings before it votes to confirm or reject Mr. Brennan as CIA director. And an independent prosecutor must be appointed to seek accountability for the torturers in our intelligence and military institutions.
These things are the least we can do to honor the sacrifice of our troops, and to preserve American values that have served us well since our nation began.
Benjamin G. Davis is an associate professor in the University of Toledo college of law.