One of the more tragic aspects of September 11, 2001, aside from the thousands of innocent lives destroyed, was the scar left on our national conscience, the collateral damage to our self proclaimed image of a nation of law and humanity.
That, if nothing else, was made clear by the release of the congressional report on the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” or more simply put, torture of suspects by the Central Intelligence Aency. Whether releasing this report is seen by the rest of the world as America’s honest attempt to own up to its foibles as a soul cleansing gesture or results in ammunition for the terrorist groups that are constantly nipping at our heels remains, of course, to be seen.
There seems to be little doubt that the anti-Americans who view us as the kingdom of Satan will try to make the most of the revelations, as critics of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s decision to make all this public have warned. One can only hope, however, that much of what the committee’s findings have now set in official concrete for the ages has been exposed and circulated anyway, and will therefore be less tempting as an excuse for more tragedy. But don’t bet on it.
It would be less than a guess to speculate that within the first few weeks following the horrible event that happened here, in New York and at a Pennsylvania field, Americans overwhelmingly would have sanctioned anything, including the most severe interrogation methods, to bring to justice those who planned it and prevent its recurrence. In fact, E Pluribus Unum nearly had been replaced as the nation’s guiding motto by “Let’s Roll,” the cry of the brave passengers who sacrificed their lives to save thousands more by bringing down another terrorist hijacked jet in Pennsylvania.
Let’s face it. This was a traumatized nation literally scared to death by the first attack on American soil since the British did it in 1812. There were dire predictions by our government officials that a repeat occurrence was inevitable and high alerts from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore., were the rule of the day. The newly created Homeland Security Department, the FBI and every other agency local, state and federal turned nearly every public gathering into major concerns.
So it was in this atmosphere and backed up by questionable rulings from the Justice Department that the country’s chief intelligence agency justified the tactics it believed were necessary to keep the assassins at bay.
But they weren’t alone. The Congress in its own panic adopted new laws that came quite close to abrogating our civil rights by giving the National Security Agency, the FBI and others the unprecedented right to pry into the privacy of Americans. It’s safe to say that our innocence in the belief that we were invulnerable to the anguish and fear the rest of the world knew quite well disappeared in one day. The barbarians of whatever stripe had made it to our gates and we probably were never going to be the same again.
Whichever side one comes down on regarding the committee’s decision to release the report — one supported by the president and strongly opposed by the intelligence community including several former CIA directors — the actions themselves are hard to defend, if at all. Were they fruitful in what they produced. Some say yes despite the report’s conclusion that they were not. We probably never will know to a certainty.
The intelligence community understandably feels betrayed and that may not be a good thing. They rightly or wrongly view this action as a slur on the loyal Americans who were faced with heading off another assault by a radical, faceless and clearly ruthless force. Those involved in the official decision to use torture and secret detention have been trying to build a backfire. How successful it will be is problematic. It would seem difficult to rationalize or justify the black ops program in the context of today’s less frantic atmosphere.
Without approving of the method from any standpoint, Americans do need to understand that the days when gentlemen never read other gentlemen’s mail have been gone a long time. “Cloaks and daggers” are unfortunately a necessary evil and intelligence apparatuses are very fragile. They can also go too far, inflicting wounds that are slow to heal and leave lasting scars.
Email Mr. Thomasson at email@example.com.