Tuesday, November 29, 2005

CIA Veterans Oppose Torture

Some retired CIA officers have come out publicly in opposition to the Bush administration's preference for authorization of torture.

These experienced interrogators are confirming that torture is ineffective in extracting useful information from captured enemies. The damage to the international moral credibility of the United States from the recent abandonment of our principles seems to be the reason for the candor of these officers.

Some perennially high-profile retired CIA officers like Bob Baer, Frank Anderson, and Vincent Cannistraro recently spoke out to Knight Ridder about their opposition to torture on practical grounds (Cannistraro said that detainees will "say virtually anything to end their torment"). But over the past 18 months, several lesser-known former officers have been trying, publicly and privately, to convince both the agency and the public that torture and other unduly coercive questioning tactics are morally wrong as well.

One retired officer is more explicit as to the effect of a policy allowing torture on the torturer's own society:

Speaking at a College of William and Mary forum last year, Burton L. Gerber, a decorated Moscow station chief who retired in 1995 after 39 years with the CIA, surprised some in the audience when he said he opposes torture "because it corrupts the society that tolerates it."

This is a view, he confirmed in an interview with National Journal last week, that is rooted in Albert Camus's assertion in Preface to Algerian Reports that torture, "even when accepted in the interest of realism and efficacy," represents "a flouting of honor that serves no purpose but to degrade" a nation in its own eyes and the world's.

"The reason I believe that torture corrupts the torturers and society," Gerber says, "is that a standard is changed, and that new standard that's acceptable is less than what our nation should stand for. I think the standards in something like this are crucial to the identity of America as a free and just society."

The moral dimensions of torture, Gerber adds, are inextricably linked with the practical; aside from the fact that torture almost always fails to yield true or useful information, it has the potential to adversely affect CIA operations.

"Foreign nationals agree to spy for us for many different reasons; some do it out of an overwhelming admiration for America and what it stands for, and to those people, I think, America being associated with torture does affect their willingness to work with us," he says. "But one of my arguments with the agency about ethics, particularly in this case, is that it's not about case studies, but philosophy. Aristotle says the ends and means must be in concert; if the ends and means are not in concert, good ends will be corrupted by bad means."

This, in a nutshell, is how Cheney, Addington, and the other torture fetishists are actively harming U.S. intelligence capabilities. I have grave concerns about their true motivations. I suspect that many Americans share my apprehension of the actions of these kooks. The issue of torture is related to but entirely separate from the comprehensive damage done to our country by unnecessarily going to war in a part of the world that is vital to U.S. interests.


Blogger DrewL said...

Both the outing of Valerie Plame and the support of torture are things that will seriously degrade - or destroy - the intelligence capabilities of the United States. In an era when, in theory, human intelligence is more important than ever in the "war on terror", doing things that will inhibit people from becoming intelligence assets seems, to say the least, counterproductive. Trust, which is the foundation of any intelligence asset, is shot. It should be common sense that cooperative intelligence assets will produce far more reliable information than that which could be elicited by torture.

So it begs the question: Are these approaches taken by the administration simply incompetence or is there a method to their madness? Are they intentionally trying to undermine the United States' reputation in order to create enemies that will continue to require militaristic remediation? That is, are they creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that results in a perpetual "war on terror".

Either way, I don't like the outcome.

11/30/2005 12:38 AM  
Blogger Effwit said...


Fine observations.

So it begs the question: Are these approaches taken by the administration simply incompetence or is there a method to their madness?

I have been pondering that exact question for quite a while. Some days I am sure it is dumbshittery in action. Other days I find myself believing it is the policy by malevolence approach.

I really don't know, it may be a combination of both. These people are certainly greedy enough to willingly arrange perpetual conflict in order to enrich their people in the defense industry.

Your point about the degradation of our intelligence capabilities is spot on.

11/30/2005 9:38 AM  
Blogger DrewL said...

The issue of the planted propaganda in Iraq's press seems to set up the U.S. for further degradation of its reputation. We just seem to keep shooting ourselves in the foot time after time after time. Suddenly (or not so suddenly) the U.S. isn't viewed as positively anymore by the people we're supposed to be "saving". Not good.

11/30/2005 9:32 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


The United States isn't viewed positively by almost anybody anymore.

It will take years for the nation to live down the debacle of Iraq.

12/01/2005 11:54 AM  

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