On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate released a sweeping indictment of the CIA and the brutal extent to which it went to protect Americans in the months and years after 9/11.
The Senate Intelligence Committee's long-delayed report on the spy agency's interrogation and torture program offered stunning and disturbing revelations about what was done in the name of the United States of America, going to great lengths to keep this information secret. The word "coverup' is not an overstatement.
Starting in 2002, some 120 terror suspects were tortured as the CIA tried to extricate information it thought they held about plans to hurt the homeland. There's a South Florida connection: Information about Broward County-raised convicted terrorist Jose Padilla came from one of these interrogations, one of the few useful tidbits gained.
CIA agents hung al-Qaida suspects from the ceilings by their arms; deprived suspects of sleep for up to seven days; sexually threatened suspects with broom sticks and subjected them to "rectal feedings" and waterboarding; they likely allowed one detainee to die of hypothermia.
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All of that inhumanity reaped very little actionable information, said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who read from a 524-page executive summary released from the massive report. What it did do, however, was reveal just how far the CIA strayed from America's stated ideals and principles that separate it from repressive regimes and lawless dictatorships.
Americans are not naive. It's the CIA's business to carry out clandestine work, a lot of it nasty, in America's interests. But the CIA must be answerable to someone in the chain of command in any administration. According to the report, it lied to the Bush White House, to Congress and to the American people. One memo reveals that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell "would blow his stack" if he knew the grisly extent of the CIA's actions.
And it's necessary to remember the context. Sept. 11, 2001 was a horrific day, the first attack on American soil since 1941. Keeping the nation safe -- seemingly at any cost -- was the mission. Countries at war commit injustices. The United States detained Japanese Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor 73 years ago this month. In anticipation of the report's release, former President George W. Bush, on whose watch the abuse occurred, defended the CIA's actions and called the operatives "patriots."
But these "patriots" did their level best to keep him, the commander in chief, in the dark. According to Ms. Feinstein, the CIA hacked into the Intelligence Committee's computers, attempting to alter the report.
No criminal charges will be filed against anyone, but our reputation is stained, our honor sullied.
The reaction across Washington was partisan, with many Republicans denouncing the release of the report at a time of world turmoil, which could spark violence against our entities abroad.
Still, the horrors revealed gave Sen. John McCain what some have called his "finest hour" on the Senate floor. Mr. McCain broke ranks, defending the airing of the "dirty laundry" report -- and America. We're better than this, he reminded us: "We are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us."
This former political prisoner, himself once tortured, knows well what the CIA's brutal actions have cost this country.