Did the Torture Report Give the C.I.A. a Bum Rap?

tags: CIA, Torture Report

David Cole is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and co-author of “Less Safe, Less Free: Why America Is Losing the War on Terror.”

In December, when the Senate Intelligence Committee issued its long-awaited report on the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program, it seemed to confirm what I and many human-rights advocates had argued for a decade: The C.I.A. had started and run a fundamentally abusive and counterproductive torture program. What’s more, the report found that the C.I.A. had lied repeatedly about the program’s efficacy, and that it had neither disrupted terror plots nor saved lives.

The report continues to reverberate. Human-rights groups are calling for a special prosecutorto investigate Bush-era officials who authorized torture. The first C.I.A. officer to publicly discuss the practice of waterboarding, who was later imprisoned for leaking classified information, was recently released and says he was the victim of a politicized prosecution. On Wednesday, Poland agreed to pay reparations to two former detainees who were tortured at a C.I.A.-run “black site” there.

But the principal lesson drawn by countless commentators in the initial news cycle — that torture does not work — was reached before nearly anyone read the full report and responses by the C.I.A. and the Republican members of the committee. The report and responses amount to 828 pages. I’ve now had a chance to read the documents in full. And I suspect the C.I.A. was treated unfairly.

The full story is more complicated, and ultimately much more disturbing, than the initial responses — mine included — suggested. And because these documents may be the closest we come to some form of accountability, it is essential that we get the lessons right.

Some very important things are not in dispute. The C.I.A. concedes that the program was poorly run, especially at the outset, and that its agents and contractors committed serious abuses. Under tremendous pressure to disrupt the next attack, it relied on “experts” who had no experience in interrogations, turned to officers with troubled histories and exercised insufficient oversight and accountability when, as was inevitable, things went awry. ...

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