Ron Fournier recently wrote in the National Journal, “Patriots may get away with torture. Not with lying about it.” He was talking about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation and ensuing report about the CIA’s post 9/11 interrogation program, the fact that President Obama called the torturers “patriots,” and the CIA’s attempts to cover up, lie and even spy on the Senate committee staff.
Sadly, Fournier is wrong about the lying part. Both torture and lying are going to be given a hall pass. Other than a flurry of columns and comments including Fournier’s excellent piece, not much will happen as a result of the investigation, despite the committee concluding that a program of brutal torture had little to do with the finding and killing of Osama Bin Laden or disrupting or investigating other terrorist activities. The committee’s report itself recommends no punishment or further inquiry.
So far the Obama Administration has shown no sign of concern with the committee’s findings. Indeed, while the President conceded that tactics went too far (“We tortured some folks,” he said, looking uncomfortable), he wasn’t contrite and he certainly wasn’t angry. And although CIA Director John Brennan flatly denied that his agency spied on Senate staffers, President Obama said, “I have full confidence in John Brennan.” (To be fair, Brennan did apologize for the spying that he said didn’t occur.)
These days it seems the only people who get in trouble for lying to Congress (or allegedly lying) are either bicyclists or baseball pitchers; Roger Clemens comes to mind. The last two administrations have either ignored or excused shameful or even illegal behavior under the cover of “national security.” Any enterprise, however immoral, is deemed patriotic when it concerns that nebulous term. Shouldn’t we ask who defines “national security”? Shouldn’t we ask how far its reach extends? Or is it simpler or maybe safer not to know? Do the words of Col. Nathan R. Jessup, in A Few Good Men, epitomize our national intelligence policy?:
I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way.
Think I’m exaggerating? Our President made this comment about findings of torture that occurred post-9/11:
It is important for us to not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the job those folks had to do.
Mr. President, I don’t feel sanctimonious. I’m scared — not for myself but for our country. We used to be above things like spying on our countrymen, like killing Americans without the benefit of due process, like torture. Nor do I believe the criminal investigation of foot soldiers following the orders of their superiors is the right response to findings of unconscionable cruelty in the name of national security. Such theater is only a diversion from the truth.
So what should be the proper response to the committee’s findings? It’s time to look in the mirror and face up to who we have become. Torture, spying and killing are signs of weakness, not strength. They have no place in the country once were or want to be. We have become what we are fighting in the rest of the world. It is time take the plank out of our own eye and quit worrying about the splinter in someone else’s.
Our intelligence community is clearly out of control. Change ought to begin with the President, but if he won’t act, we must demand from Congress a major restructuring and house cleaning. When Sputnik soared from Russia to orbit Earth, we didn’t cower in fear, we reached for the Moon. Perhaps the realization that our moral compass has been thrown out of whack by 9/11 will enable us to react once more, once again not out of fear, but out of aspiration.