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Dunsmore: Interrogation Report

Just fifteen days after the terrorist attack of September 11th, 2001, then Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on Meet the Press. As he discussed the new terrorist threat with Tim Russert, Cheney said: quote: “We have to work the dark side, if you will. Spend time in the shadows of the intelligence work.” He added, “a lot of what needs to be done will have to be done quietly, without any discussion.” Unquote

We have known for years that under prodding by Cheney and his senior staff, the Department of Justice came up with a rationale and definitions of what were euphemistically called, “enhanced interrogation techniques.” We laymen, and most international human rights conventions, view these techniques as torture.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has been looking into the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques for more than five years. It has analyzed millions of internal CIA documents. Along the way, it has had to deal with significant agency pushback, including CIA hacking of the committee’s computers.

In its declassified executive summary, the senate panel concludes that the CIA had been brutal in its questioning of more than a hundred terror suspects - while being less than truthful in its accounts of this program to Congress and the White House.

Since the report came out, former CIA directors have decried its findings. And Republican committee members, many of whom initially approved of the investigation, have since refused to accept its conclusions on grounds that this is now is a highly partisan document designed to discredit the George W. Bush administration.

The most strenuously debated item in the report is whether or not the brutal techniques produced significant intelligence that made the country safer. The CIA says it did - and claims Osama Bin Laden was found and killed because of detainee information extracted under duress. The senate’s panel deconstructs this claim and concludes Bin Laden was found because of information obtained long before the interrogation program even began.

A notable exception to the Republican dismissal of the report’s conclusions is Republican Senator John McCain, whose five years as an often tortured prisoner during the Vietnam War, gives him unique credibility on this subject.

Speaking from the Senate floor Tuesday , McCain said, “I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering.”

Perhaps then, this question of whether torture works depends on whether one believes Cheney or McCain. For me that’s an easy call.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.
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