It’s hard to know where to start debunking the claims about torture that former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell makes in his new memoir, The Great War of Our Time. The book is brimming with misleading material.
Morell attempts to make the case that the CIA’s use of torture was legal, effective, and moral, and that the Senate intelligence committee’s report on CIA torture and detention post-9/11 was a hatchet job that got it all wrong.
The report, drawn from millions of the CIA’s own internal communications and documents, found that the CIA’s use of torture was much more widespread and gruesome than the agency acknowledged. It also showed that the agency lied to Congress, the White House, and the public to make it seem like the program was more successful than it actually was.
The report reveals that most, if not all, of the CIA’s claims that torture produced intelligence that stopped attacks or led to the capture of other terrorists (including bin Laden) were false. Most intelligence was actually gained from other agencies, non-coercive interrogations, or other sources altogether.
The report also shows how the CIA’s treatment of detainees (including some captured by mistake) was devised and carried out by inexperienced officers and contractors. Their methods were sometimes far more brutal than anything authorized by higher-ups. Internal CIA investigations came to the same conclusion. Morell conveniently leaves out the objections to the abuse from CIA officers and medical personnel in the field.
When faced with these facts, of course CIA higher-ups have a compulsion to attack the report. It exposes their culpability in horrible crimes. Their reputations and their colleagues’ are on the line. And while the Obama Administration hasn’t held CIA officials accountable for torture, they probably don’t want history to record their misdeeds as such. So they allege that the report was a partisan effort to smear the CIA, that it was developed with a preconceived conclusion, and that the committee didn’t consult any CIA officials.
But these talking points don’t reflect the record, which included multiple bipartisan votes and Republican support, as well as the inclusion of many interviews with CIA officials (just not conducted by the committee itself).
As much as Morell and his compatriots would like to deny it, the facts show that the CIA torture program went far beyond what was authorized, that the agency lied about the program and its success, and that torture is illegal, immoral, and ineffective in producing reliable information. Experienced interrogators have testified to this repeatedly. That’s the real history of the CIA torture program.