Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why Won’t Senator Feinstein Call Torture Torture?

There’s been a lot of great commentary already about the brouhaha between the Senate and the CIA regarding Senator Dianne Feinstein's allegations that the CIA has, in essence, spied on the activities of the Senate’s intelligence oversight committee.  I just want to add a few thoughts.

First, it’s fair to wonder why the Senate is calling its own inquiry a report on the CIA's “detention and interrogation program.”  Feinstein herself acknowledges her staff members have been "wading through the horrible details of a CIA program that never, never, never should have existed.”  A horrible program that should never have existed?  Does that sound like detention and interrogation… or like torture and imprisonment?

In fact, the word “torture” appears not once in Feinstein’s remarks.  Think of the linguistic dexterity required to deliver a 12-page-speech about a CIA torture program and a Senate investigation into that program without even once mentioning the word torture!  It would be like me writing this blog post without once mentioning the name “Feinstein.”  I wouldn’t know how to do it, and I’m almost in awe of the propagandists who do.

Second, it was a little weird to hear Feinstein describe the "need to preserve and protect the Internal Panetta Review,” if only because “preserve and protect” is the language the Constitution mandates for the President’s oath of office:  “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  It's almost as though some people think an obligation to protect secrecy is as important as an oath to defend the Constitution.

Third, so much security!  “[T]he committee staff securely transported a printed portion of the draft Internal Panetta Review from the committee’s secure room at the CIA-leased facility to the secure committee spaces in the Hart Senate Office Building.”  I couldn’t help remembering this:

Fourth, if Senator Feinstein really is as outraged as she says, and really wants the Senate’s report on the CIA’s imprisonment and torture program to be declassified, all she needs to do is introduce the report into Congressional proceedings.  She would have full immunity via the Constitution’s speech or debate clause, and there’s even precedent — Senator Mike Gravel did precisely this with the Pentagon Papers in 1971.  Or Senator Lindsey Graham, who says Congress “should declare war on the CIA” if the spying allegations are true (wouldn’t an actual Congressional declaration of war be refreshing?), could do the same.  Maybe the Senators are slightly less outraged than they profess?

Fifth, and most insidiously, note that the overseers of this country are still peddling the notion that torture is merely a policy choice, and not a crime.  In this regard, Feinstein said, "if the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted.”

No.  If Feinstein or anyone else is serious about ensuring America never again engages in institutional torture, it is imperative that the Justice Department (it’s gotten so hard to not put scare quotes around that phrase) investigate who ordered what Feinstein calls "an un-American, brutal program… that never, never, never should have existed” (hint: this would not be hard); to prosecute those people; and to imprison them if they are found guilty of violating America’s laws against torture.  Anything else is implicit and unavoidable acknowledgment that torture is not a crime, merely a policy choice with which Dianne Feinstein happens to disagree.  And the notion that merely persuading people that torture is bad is the right way to prevent it from happening again is illogical, ahistorical, and, as Feinstein might put it if she were thinking a little more clearly or had slightly different priorities, unAmerican, too.


Left Coast Oracle said...

I sincerely hope that Feinstein doesn't run fir re-election. She has stayed too long at the fair.

Representative Press said...

She should admit it is torture. Hear her whole speech here: ​Here is a link to the whole speech: Senator Feinstein on the Intel Committee's CIA Detention, Interrogation Report and see what they did to this victim of CIA torture.

Valtin said...

Great article, Barry, but I do have a quibble.

You wrote, "If Feinstein or anyone else is serious about ensuring America never again engages in institutional torture..."

But actually, the US does still practice institutional torture via its Army Field Manual, and especially its Appendix M. One effect of all the concentration on the CIA and its own program, is that attention skips over the ways in which a torture program centered around use of isolation, sleep and sensory deprivation, manipulation of fears, manipulation of environment and diet, inculcation of hopelessness and helplessness ("Futility") and use of drugs -- all of which is allowed in the Army Field Manual -- continues unabated.

The current use of torture, based on long-studied psychological forms of torture, was instituted by Obama via executive order as THE rules by which interrogation is practiced.

For more, readers can see my recent Guardian column: http://t.co/uxRs94IaUJ

Barry Eisler said...

Thanks for the thoughts everyone. Jeff (Valtin), great point and familiar as I am with your work, I should have thought to say so myself. Even David Brooks (!) recently wrote an op-ed acknowledging that long-term isolation is a form of torture, and that psychological pain can be every bit as torturous as the physical variety.

It's possible that if the details of the Senate report are gruesome (that is, accurate) enough, consciousness will be raised not just about things like waterboarding, but about the more insidious practices permitted by Appendix M, as well. Of course, the far better way of achieving the same goal would be simply to enforce our existing laws. With Obama, Holder, Feinstein et al running the show, I can't say I expect that will ever happen.

Barry Eisler said...

Jorn, apologies -- I inadvertently deleted your comment because I didn't know what you meant by square/scare, and that plus the link made it look like spam. Just realized you were pointing out a typo (square quotes rather than scare quotes, now corrected). Thanks for that and again, apologies. Here's the comment:

Jorn has left a new comment on your post "Why Won’t Senator Feinstein Call Torture Torture?":

square/scare http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/001780.html

Don Bay said...

Regardless of whether their elves are prowling the Internet, I hope this posting is brought to the attention of Sen. Feinstein and Pres. Obama. They need to see this and act for the people…finally.

Unknown said...

The interrogation practices described in the Army appendix seem pretty low-key to me, by comparison with things like waterboarding, electric shock, etc. Putting aside the oft-cited but rarely-realistic "ticking time bomb" excuse for using drastic measures, I would ask: what interrogation techniques are acceptable? To our side, that is; the other side has very few qualms about what they subject their prisoners (our people) to.