The release on Dec. 9 of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s interrogation of terror suspects showed that the agency’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” was both less effective and more brutal than originally claimed.
With its details of waterboarding, sleep and sensory deprivation and other abuses, the 528-page report, redacted from a 6,000-page version that is still classified, also confirmed what psychologists have been saying for years — that torture provides inaccurate information. On top of that, it appears that the management of the enhanced interrogation program was seriously flawed, with the report documenting that people of questionable temperament were put in charge of violently extracting information from suspects.
While the use of waterboarding by the CIA is not particularly new information, it came as a surprise to find reference to Israel included in the report, as we read of what the agency calls the “Israeli example.” This was a reference by U.S. intelligence operatives to how Israel handles interrogations and was used as a means to justify the level of pressure the CIA used in its actions.
The CIA’s reliance on the “Israeli example” to support its inappropriate measures is ironic, because the more appropriate example to follow would have been the Israeli Supreme Court’s effort to ban torture. In 1999, the court forbade torture but allowed “moderate physical pressure” in “ticking time bomb” cases when a suspect’s knowledge — and the interrogator’s need for it — could prevent imminent loss of life.
As it turns out, the physical pressure used in the most notorious examples of the CIA’s enhanced interrogations were anything but “moderate.” And according to the Senate report, those efforts didn’t result in anything helpful. Indeed, the enhanced interrogations do not appear to have done anything to defuse the ticking time bomb of Islamist terror.
We’ve learned from this unfortunate episode that torture doesn’t work. It also makes our intelligence community look bad. That embarrassment is made worse by the revelation that the CIA sought to rely on an example from the Jewish state to justify its excessive behavior. That is not what is meant by “a light unto the nations.”