On April 16, like me, you were probably paying attention to the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, waiting breathlessly for intrepid journalists at CNN, the New York Post, and Reddit to implicate a series of innocent people in a manner suggesting the involvement of a doctor with a flashlight. If your attention wandered from that, you may have become preoccupied by a tremendous explosion in Texas, one not preceded by the traditional local incantation "hey, hold my beer." Then you probably looked back at Boston for a two-day chase involving stolen SUVs and grenades and gunfights and boats. It was a very American week in the media.
I know I was paying attention to all of that. Oh, and the kids were being the kids, and I was busy at work, and I was irritable.
Maybe that's why I didn't notice the release of a detailed report explaining how America has tortured people since 9/11.
Perhaps the most important or notable finding of this panel is that it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture.
This finding, offered without reservation, is not based on any impressionistic approach to the issue. No member of the Task Force made this decision because the techniques “seemed like torture to me,” or “I would regard that as torture.” Instead, this conclusion is grounded in a thorough and detailed examination of what constitutes torture in many contexts, notably historical and legal. The Task Force examined court cases in which torture was deemed to have occurred both inside and outside the country and, tellingly, in instances in which the United States has leveled the charge of torture against other governments. The United States may not declare a nation guilty of engaging in torture and then exempt itself from being so labeled for similar if not identical conduct. The extensive research that led to the conclusion that the United States engaged in torture is contained in a detailed legal memorandum attached to this report. It should be noted that the conclusion that torture was used means it occurred in many instances and across a wide range of theaters. This judgment is not restricted to or dependent on the three cases in which detainees of the CIA were subjected to waterboarding, which had been approved at the highest levels.
But, of course, it was necessary, right?
There is no firm or persuasive evidence that the widespread use of harsh interrogation techniques by U.S. forces produced significant information of value. There is substantial evidence that much of the information adduced from the use of such techniques was not useful or reliable. There are, nonetheless, strong assertions by some former senior government officials that the use of those techniques did, in fact, yield valuable intelligence that resulted in operational and strategic successes. But those officials say that the evidence of such success may not be disclosed for reasons of national security.
The report is lengthy and detailed. I'm still reading it. A report condemning the government is no more worthy of automatic belief than a statement supporting the government. My evaluation of the report would be aided by critical reviews, both pro and con, both in the "mainstream media" and amongst bloggers. I'm not holding my breath for it. Consider how little it's been reported during this tumultuous week. I could try to be outraged or smug about that, but the truth is that it is entirely possible that I will be distracted by other, simpler, funnier things.
This is how most of us have decided we are willing to live.