Monday, December 29, 2014

CIA Torture Report

Revelations of torture practiced by the CIA have set off a number of passionate debates.
There are some CIA employees who, when asked to torture prisoners, refused and left the agency. Their reason: “America does not torture.” Wish it were true! We do not have to go back to times of slavery but only pay attention to what happens in our prisons today, to know that that boast is empty. America does torture.
A more interesting debate goes back and forth about the efficacy of torture. Opponents assert that the information gained from torture is completely unreliable. The current and previous heads of the agency insist that torture yielded information which actually saved lives by preventing other terrorist attacks. Unfortunately the information on which such claims rest is classified and we have to just trust them.
This debate is interesting for its background. It only makes sense to argue about the effectiveness of torture if you are willing to say that torture that prevents other terrorist incidents is justified. If you believe that America ought not to torture—whatever the outcome -- it is pointless to argue about the actual results of torture. If torture is morally wrong and you will not sacrifice morality for security, the question of outcomes is irrelevant.
Here some readers will chime in and say something like “The ends do not justify the means.” But that only serves to muddy the waters. In all sorts of situations, we believe that the end does justify the means. Many people believe in the death penalty. We are willing to kill people for the sake of closure for the victim's family or for the sake of discouraging people from committing horrible crimes. Everyone is willing to have a life saving operation however painful. Many women are willing to go through the excruciating pain of natural childbirth for the sake of having a healthy baby.
In many situations we do believe that the end justified the means. Does national security justify torturing suspects?
In the conduct of foreign policy, not only the CIA, but the US government, as a whole, is completely unscrupulous. Here is a chilling example I came across recently.
The Ebola epidemic in Liberia got as bad as it is because the early warnings by the Liberian government were not heeded by the population. The Liberian government is widely distrusted by the population, not only for being massively corrupt, but even more because the President, Ellen Sirleaf, was involved with the different dictatorial regimes that wreaked havoc in Liberia in the 1980s and 1990s. These military insurgencies were sponsored and supported by the CIA because the Liberian government of the 1970s was thought to lean to the left and was therefore not acceptable to us. So the CIA unleashed a civil war that killed thousands, drove many more from their homes into exile in neighboring countries, and destroyed the political structure of the country. One long term effect is that the government is so unpopular that many Liberians believe that the Ebola epidemic was the work of the government.
Moral scruples do not inhibit our government.
Since we constantly present ourselves as humane, freedom loving, morally punctilious people, our actual behavior is hypocritical.
The blatant immorality of our foreign policy makes us fiercely hated and often ridiculed. It makes us ever less safe as it inspires fanatical hatred of the US and motivates more and more people to set out to hurt us.
Worse, we act as unscrupulously and morally reprehensibly as the worst of our enemies. For the sake of what we—often mistakenly—believe to be our interest we are willing to bring down the scourges of totalitarian regimes, civil war, massive killing and displacement of populations. We are indifferent to the suffering we impose on millions of people all around the globe.
Is there any doubt that that is completely unacceptable?
Here is a good resolution for the New Year: Congress must defund the CIA.