What Is the Impact of the CIA Torture Report?


It will take a while to absorb all of the important information in the Senate report. It tells multiple stories: the evolving policy of torture at black sites around the world; the misinformation fed to the public about a number of high-profile counterterrorism investigations, including the hunt for Osama bin Laden; the ineffectiveness of torture; and the revulsion that certain individuals within the CIA expressed over the use of barbaric tactics.

But as important as any single fact or string of facts in the report, there is one stunning achievement of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s efforts. This report has restored the word torture to its rightful place in the national conversation.

As Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, writes in her summary of findings, “It is my personal conclusion that, under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured.” The word is used throughout the report to describe the program and its methods of abuse, which included beatings, week-long sleep deprivation, waterboarding, threats of death, threats of sexual abuse and death to one’s family members, medieval-type shackling and exposure to extreme cold.

Until recently, the word was virtually banned from usage. On air, in the press and in general discussion, the substitute phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques” was insisted upon—the achievement of spin doctors who supported the policy. Their campaign worked so successfully that leading media outlets, including The New York Times, relied exclusively on the euphemism and eschewed the more accurate if shameful word.

With this report, the appropriate word can once again be used. “The Torture Report” became the headline in recent coverage.

This is not a small accomplishment. President Obama helped revive the term when he admitted last August that “we tortured some folks.” And days later, The New York Times, referring to the impending release of the report, announced that it would “recalibrate its language,” choosing once again to “use the word ‘torture‘ to describe incidents in which we know for sure that interrogators inflicted pain on a prisoner in an effort to get information.”

The Senate report’s unwavering reintroduction of the word torture has, for the first time in years, put the country back on track in confronting the violation of the rule of law that took place at the CIA.

This report will hopefully provide policymakers with guidelines for preventing future abuses, give historians fodder for understanding the way in which secrecy can undermine the law, and enable..

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