October 25th, 2021


When will court trials begin on CIA torturers and their government authorizers?

Nat Hentoff

By Nat Hentoff

Published Dec. 17, 2014

When will court trials begin on CIA torturers and their government authorizers?
So with the Senate Intelligence Committee's patriotic report on the CIA's years of torture after 9/11, a surprisingly disappointing reaction came from Rand Paul, most likely running as the Constitution's candidate for the presidency:

"I think we should not have tortured," he told The New York Times ("Torture Report Puts Politicians in Quiet Mode," Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Michael Barbaro, The New York Times, Dec. 11).

However, according to the Times story, Paul "questioned whether releasing gruesome details would be 'beneficial or inflammatory.'"

That, sir, is not leadership.

By contrast, in a press release for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law, which continues Justice William Brennan's constitutional legacy, Michael German declares:

"The release of a small portion of the Senate's report on abusive CIA interrogations should only be the first step toward full accountability. The public needs to be fully informed and all involved need to be held responsible to ensure our country never embraces a policy of official cruelty again" ("Senate Report Concludes CIA Torture Brutal, Ineffective,", Dec. 9).

German, who is a fellow at the Brennan Center, continues: "It is also important to remember that there were those both inside and outside government who opposed the use of torture and cruel treatment from the very beginning on the grounds that it was illegal, immoral, ineffective and would ultimately do great harm to our troops and our nation's security.

"We should honor those who stood against torture when it was most difficult to do so."

I know Mike German, a former undercover FBI agent who became an unyielding defender of the Constitution. Some of us do learn and change.

A more predictable response to the Senate torture report was found on the Dec. 10 Wall Street Journal editorial page: "The report on CIA interrogations is a collection of partisan second-guessing ... The report is more important for illustrating how fickle Americans are about their security, and so unfair to those who provide it" ("Spooks of the Senate," The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 10).

I and many others are being unfair to the torturing CIA? Actually, there are reporters on The Wall Street Journal who are independent of its editorial line, and are probably embarrassed by this opinion.

And lo and behold, writing in the New York Daily News is Jon Yoo, who, while at the Justice Department, helped create the "torture memos" that gave George W. Bush and Dick Cheney the artificial authority to "legalize" the United States' practice of torture.

But, he argues that, "given its profoundly partisan tenor and fiercely disputed details, I have significant reason to doubt this report's veracity" ("A torture report for the dustbin," John Yoo, New York Daily News, Dec. 10).

I was once in a panel discussion with Yoo, and I directly accused him, with documentation, of having been a key justifier of torture.

His only response was smiling and saying, "I enjoy reading Nat Hentoff on jazz."

Still unpunished, Yoo now presides as a professor of his version of the Constitution at the University at California and is a frequent commentator elsewhere.

Decidedly realistic feedback to the Senate report came in the lead editorial of the Dec. 10 New York Times: "A Record of Torture and Lies."

The editorial calls the summarized version of the report "a portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend and even harder to stomach. The report raises again, with renewed power, the question of why no one has ever been held accountable for these seeming crimes -- not the top officials who set them in motion, the lower-level officials who committed the torture, or those who covered it up, including by destroying videotapes of the abuse."

The Times then brings us inside the Senate report, quoting from it extensively: "Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads."

The editorial argues: "The litany of brutality, lawlessness and lack of accountability serves as a reminder of what a horrible decision President Obama made at the outset of his administration to close the books on this chapter in our history, even as he repudiated the use of torture."

It's up to you to deal with the troubling end of the editorial: "It's hard to believe that anything will be done now. Republicans, who will soon control the Senate and have the majority on the intelligence panel, denounced the report, acting as though it is the reporting of the torture and not the torture itself that is bad for the country."

Wake up, Rand Paul.

I suggest that schools around the country have students compare The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times editorials on the report. Then they should do their own research on the facts about U.S. torture, already documented by reporters here and abroad, including me, before the Senate report was released.

Otherwise, this new generation and those that follow will eventually still live in an America that tortures and will become used to it.

But if the present generation of We The People were to insist on the impeachment of President Obama, we'd all learn how much torture he has concealed, as I've indicated here previously.

Ultimately, it's the citizens of this land of the free and home of the brave who are responsible for allowing American torture to keep happening.

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Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of several books, including his current work, "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance".