The executive summary of the CIA torture report from the Senate Intelligence Committee will hit the streets this morning, but the reaction to it is already hitting the fan.
Various senators of both parties are worried that our enemies will use it as justification for attacks against American embassies around the world. The Obama administration has already put them on heightened alert, which is a prudent thing to do, but it’s not as if we don’t already know what’s in the report and if anyone was going to hit back at us for doing what we did, they would have done it already.
It is right to be concerned about the response. We already know that some very bad people will exploit the report for their own ends or use it to justify attacks on the administration. And I don’t mean just Dick Cheney and the GOP; I’m talking about ISIS and their ilk. But, to echo Paul Waldman, acknowledging the horrors done in our name should make us accountable for what was done.
The darkest chapters in our history and the most outrageous government decisions and programs eventually move from a place of contestation to a place of consensus in public debate. Outside of a few fringe extremists, no one today holds the position that slavery, the Trail of Tears, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, Jim Crow, or the witch hunts of McCarthyism were the right and proper thing for America to do. The Bush torture program may not be even remotely close in scale to those atrocities. But just as there is now consensus that all of those things are moral blots on the country’s history, if the full truth about torture comes out, a consensus could eventually emerge that this, too, is an unambiguous stain.
The cynicism necessary to attempt to blame the blowback from their torture program on those who want it exposed is truly a wonder. On one hand, they insist that they did nothing wrong and the program was humane, professional, and legal. On the other they implicitly accept that the truth is so ghastly that if it is released there will be an explosive backlash against America. Then the same officials who said “Freedom isn’t free!” as they sent other people’s children to fight in needless wars claim that the risk of violence against American embassies is too high a price to pay, so the details of what they did must be kept hidden.
The world already knows what we did. We already know who ordered it and who should be held responsible for what happened then. But like they say in every rehab program, the first and most vital step is admitting we have a problem. The rest is recovery.