Mark Danner of the New York Times has revealed a secret International Red Cross report detailing the CIA’s use of torture involving 14 high profile terrorism suspects. Danner wrote a short op-ed piece in the Sunday Times, and a longer report in the New York Review of Books. Danner is also the author of an earlier book, Torture and Truth, about the abuse of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Yesterday, a Washington Post editorial called for an independent investigation into the allegations set forth in the Red Cross report, which is very explicit about using the term “torture” and the illegal use of the tactics described.
Americans are expending all of their fury on the AIG bonuses and bailout, perhaps because arguing about money is a lot easier than reading a document that necessarily describes the most horrible physical activities committed in the name of American defense. The “comments” sections attached to online articles are an interesting bellwether of the public’s attention: there are thousands of comments posted to stories about the AIG scandal, but a relative handful of comments posted on the torture report stories.
Where’s the outrage over the U.S. government’s official use of abusive tactics that the Red Cross describes as torture? Surely, the moral bankruptcy revealed in this and other reports about our government’s abuse of detainees is a serious offense to human life and dignity. The Bush Administration intentionally redefined the meaning of law and policy in order to empower the CIA and other agencies to commit these horrific acts. As Danner and others have written, this deliberate manipulation of the law has not produced much useful “intelligence,” but it has damaged, perhaps permanently, America’s standing in the world as a nation that once was considered a beacon for justice and freedom.
Supporters of the use of torture argue that these prisoners committed murder and would do so again. Al Qaeda is a dangerous organization, and its operatives have already murdered thousands of Americans and others throughout the world. True. But the lesson here is much older than Machiavelli: the ends do not justify the means. Adopting criminal tactics to stop criminals almost never works; the authority soon becomes as corrupt as the criminal.
Everyone should take a break from the riveting AIGfest to read the more serious and sobering report from the Red Cross. In the end, the economy will eventually rebalance itself, but our government’s moral compass may well need significant intervention to find the right direction.