COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Senate Intelligence Committee's release of its report on CIA torture is a welcome step toward transparency. The methods used to wage the "war on terror" are of more than a little public interest.
Despite gruesome details included in the report about what was done to detainees, the release is not likely to lead to any immediate increased risk to Americans. It has been no secret for some time now that the CIA used techniques amounting to torture in its post-9/11 interrogations.
What has augmented the ranks of those inclined to cause harm to Americans is the torture itself, not its description in the Senate report.
The interrogation methods had already been called torture by other authoritative bodies. Last summer the European Court of Human Rights ordered Poland to pay money damages to Abu Zubaydah, who was tortured in Poland at a "black site" made available to the CIA by the Polish Government.
The court found that the methods used against Abu Zubaydah constituted torture as internationally defined. The court found Poland complicit in torture perpetrated by the CIA. The European Court is no rogue outfit. Its judges are drawn from countries that are our closest allies.
It was in fact the capture of Abu Zubaydah in March 2002 in Pakistan that prompted the CIA to opt for harsh tactics in interrogation. In the case of Abu Zubaydah, the Senate report says, harsh tactics including waterboarding did not result in any significant information from him.
The United States has also been pilloried for the post-9/11 interrogations by the UN Committee Against Torture, which monitors the Torture Convention we signed.
To a great extent, what the Senate Intelligence Committee reported confirmed, albeit in greater detail, what outside monitors have already found.
The aspects of the Senate report that trouble Americans – whether the CIA lied to Congress, and whether the torture produced actionable intelligence – are of less moment abroad. What matters in world public opinion is what we did.
The torture was part of an oversized reaction to 9/11 that included an ill-conceived invasion of Afghanistan.
Instead of dealing with the Afghanistan Government to gain custody of those responsible for the attacks in New York, we took over the country. Now we are trying to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan, but without correcting the instability that let al-Qaida operate.
The CIA torture was carried out, moreover, not only to ascertain threats from al-Qaida, but to establish a connection between al-Qaida and Iraq, as a pretext to invade Iraq. No such connection was ever established.
It is all these actions taken together that make us an attractive target for a new generation of terrorists. Not surprisingly, our actions are interpreted as arrogance and as a reflection of an attitude of superiority.
Our continuing stance in the dispute over historic Palestine does not help in convincing those who would harm us that we have changed our ways. Even today, we stand practically alone in refusing to acknowledge Palestine as a nation-state, and in protecting Israel in the UN Security Council.
It made sense to come clean on torture, in part because torture is a crime under U.S. law. A federal statute incorporates the UN Convention Against Torture, making torture committed anywhere in the world a crime.
Charles Taylor, son of the former Liberian president of the same name, is currently serving a 97-year sentence in federal prison for orchestrating torture in Liberia when he headed a government "anti-terrorism" unit under his father.
Regardless of whether any U.S. official is prosecuted, the Senate in its oversight role had to release this report about torture. In the long term, the safety of America will depend on how we deal with foreign policy issues overall, not just this one.