Peggy Noonan is the speech writer for Ronald Reagan who touched hearts with her metaphors and inspirational words. (Husband thinks she should have lived in the 18th Century with her often flowery language! ) She is the spokesman for the right where Maureen Dowd is often the writer for the left in American politics.
By PEGGY NOONAN THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Dec. 11, 2014 7:57 p.m. ET
The “torture report” exists. It shouldn’t—a better, more comprehensive, historically deeper and less partisan document should have been produced, and then held close for mandatory reading by all pertinent current and future officials—but it’s there. Anyone in the world who wants to read it can do a full download, and think what they think.
Its overall content left me thinking of a conversation in the summer of 1988 with the pollster Bob Teeter, a thoughtful man who worked for George Bush’s presidential campaign, as I did. I asked if he ever found things in polls that he wasn’t looking for and that surprised him. Bob got his Thinking Look, and paused. Yes, he said, here’s one: The American people don’t like the Japanese.
It surprised him, and me, and I asked what he thought it was about.
He didn’t think it was economic—he saw in the data that Americans admired Japan’s then-rising economy. He didn’t think it was World War II per se—he didn’t find quite the same kind of responses about Germany. We were quiet for a moment, and then our minds went to exactly the same place at the same time: Japanese torture of American soldiers in the Pacific war. The terrible, vicious barbarity of it. When the war ended, American boys went home, and the story of what they’d seen, experienced and heard filtered through families, workplaces and VFW halls. More than 40 years later, maybe it was still there, showing up in a poll.
It was just our guess, but I think a good one. A nation’s reputation in the world will not soon recover from such cruel, systemic actions, which seemed to bubble up from a culture. You’ll pay a price in terms of the world’s regard.
This is one of the reasons, only a practical one, torture is bad. It makes people lose respect for you. And when you come most deeply to terms with it, it can make you lose respect for you, too.
The arguments over the deficiencies of the torture report—we’ll get to some in a moment—have in a way overwhelmed that point.
But America should never again do what is asserted and outlined in the report, which enumerates various incidents of what I believe must honestly be called torture. American policy should be to treat prisoners the way we would hope—with clear eyes, knowing it is a hope—our prisoners would be treated.
The war we are engaged in is different, we know, and it is still going on and will be for some time, but it won’t help us fight it to become less like ourselves and more like those we oppose. Torture is not like us. It’s not part of the American DNA. We think of ourselves as better than that because we’ve been better than that.
It is almost childish to say it, yet children sometimes see obvious truths. We can’t use torture methods and still at the same time be the hope of the world. You’re an animal like the other animals or you’re something different, something higher, and known to be different and higher.
Someone has to be the good guy. For a long time in the world that has been our role. You might say it bubbled up from our culture.
We should not judge those who, in the months and years after 9/11, did what they thought necessary to forestall further attacks on America’s civilian population. They went with the legal guidance they had, propelled by the anxiety we all experienced. “There was no operating manual to guide the choices and decisions made by the men and women in charge of protecting us,” wrote former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey this week in USA Today. None of them should be abused, embarrassed or prosecuted now.
But who is more hawkish and concerned about our security than Sen. John McCain , and who has more standing on the subject of torture, having been tortured over 5½ years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam? He was denied medical treatment, starved, beaten, his arm rebroken and his ribs shattered; he was made to stand and put in stress positions, and put in solitary confinement for two years. This week on the floor of the Senate, he said the kind of practices outlined in the report, whose issuance he supported, do not produce actionable intelligence and “actually damage our security interests as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.” He added: “The use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights.”
What the report contains is believable but insufficient; it’s not the whole story, it’s part of the story. Those involved in the episodes outlined should have been interviewed, and were not. The investigation and report should have been conducted so that they could win full bipartisan involvement and support, and were not.
The most stinging critique came from Mr. Kerrey, a Democrat who served eight years on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which issued the report. In his USA Today piece he slammed the report’s partisanship: “I do not need to read the report to know that the Democratic staff alone wrote it.” The Republicans refused to take part “when they determined that their counterparts started out with the premise that the CIA was guilty and then worked to prove it.”
The purpose of the committee is “to stand above the fray and render balanced judgments,” but “this committee departed from that high road.”
As for not interviewing all individuals involved, the committee staff’s rationale—“that some officers were under investigation and could not be made available—is not persuasive.” Most officers were not under investigation, and those who were saw the process end in 2012.
Worse, wrote Mr. Kerrey, is the “disturbing fact” that the report “contains no recommendations. This is perhaps the most significant missed opportunity, because no one would claim the program was perfect or without its problems.” At the same time, he said, no one with real experience would claim it was completely ineffective. “Our intelligence personnel—who are once again on the front lines fighting the Islamic State—need recommended guidance from their board of governors: The U.S. Congress.”
There are more questions about the report. One is that it is generally understood to reflect longstanding tensions between the committee and the CIA. Another is the timing—the report was issued just as a defeated Democratic majority walked out the door, and has the look of a last, lobbed stink bomb: “See what the terrible Bush administration did? Bye now!” There is about the entire enterprise a sense of sin being expiated at someone else’s expense. The committee’s job is to oversee the CIA. If its own report is true, it didn’t do a very good job.
It can be hard to take seriously a report that seems largely a product of partisan resentment, guilt and blame shifting. And yet it outlines believable incidents of what is clearly torture.
The report is out there. If any good comes of it, it can be as a final demarcation between an old way of operating and a new one.
I would love to hear your thoughts about this column and have some debate!
I understand those who wish to make the report seem biased, or worse yet, containing no truth. My information on these things is limited, so I speak from what I hear and read and believe.
America believed water-boarding to be torture when it was done to our soldiers. We decried it as inhuman and had perpetrators prosecuted. Suddenly, when it us doing it, it is “enhanced interrogation, and morally justified. Heaven help us! There is NO justification to the inhuman treatment of other people, no matter what the circumstance.
If what we did was okay and moral, why was it hidden and lied about? The methods used could be public, and if it were moral and okay there would be no problem with them. The intelligence gained from these methods could be classified, but why go to such extreme lengths to hide the procedures? It’s because they are heinous acts perpetrated by people without a conscience. Those with a conscience left. What remained were the sadistic minds that enjoyed this horrifying approval of torture and those who felt they were above God and man and knew best.
Would I say “No” to torture if my son were at risk? Yes I would. Would I want my family to say “no” to torture if I were at risk? Yes I would. You can put me on a lie-detector and prove that what I say is believed to the core of my being.
Honorable persons and honorable societies do not behave this way. I am heartbroken to find out America is no better than Al Queda. My only hope is that ordinary people living ordinary lives will stand up and decry these actions.
Shame on us!
Carol, many thanks for your excellent comment and taking the time and effort to respond. There seems so much we are not aware of even in what we think is a “free and democratic” society. I hope, too, that there are people who are brave enough to take a stand, no matter how hard it is. Hugs!
Thank you – not just for the reply but for your strength :>)
well, what a lovely compliment . Big smiles. . . ..
When we start to torture we become what we are targeting, I believe.. x
Shaun that is a very statement getting to the heart of the matter. . . . Thanks.
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Ah, there’s the Peggy I’d long come to sigh over, the Peggy who actually voted for Barack Obama because, in her own tepid, wishy-washy way she just wanted everything to be nice and for there to be hope and change. Until…. just as even Democrats became disillusioned and critical of Obama, so did Peggy. Principals schmincipals, it just didn’t feel good any more so it was time to finally start criticizing someone whose fundamental philosophy was obviously anathema from the moment he burst on the scene in 2004. (Was this woman even in the same BUILDING as President Reagan?)
But lest you believe Peggy had permanently abandoned her wifty fantasies for reality, nope, she’s back.
Now she tries to address a new assault by America’s domestic enemies and, sure enough, she drifts back into her old “wouldn’t it be nice” dream state.
Psssst. Peggy. It’s not nice.
There are psychopaths trying to kill us all and brave people doing what they can to stop them… and rabid anti-American ideologues trying, in turn, to stop THEM.
And that’s on whose side Peggy has placed herself, with some of the most perverse false equivalency I’ve seen come from anyone to the right of Occupy Wall Street.
The Japanese engaged in real torture of soldiers who’d been conducting the normal business of war, soldiers whose mission would have been military action in battle against Japanese military targets, soldiers who are protected under the Geneva Conventions.
America’s terror fighters made things uncomfortable for aspiring (and sometimes successful) mass murderers whose mission was to butcher American civilians not on any battlefield but in their shopping centers, airliners, buses, schools and daily life. And all in the interest of stopping imminent or developing mass murder plans against American civilians. September 11th anyone?
No, they did not torture. No, waterboarding is scary but it’s not torture. No, saving someone’s life by force feeding him is not torture.
All those things saved more American lives than we’ll ever know. THAT is the only report that anyone should be writing.
Inasmuch as the anti-American set are now demanding prosecution of the heroes who protected us after September 11, let’s hope that some future government sends every person responsible for that report to Leavenworth.
As for the report. Yes, the horse is out of the barn and it is truly a great gift to the terrorists. But they already have plenty of similar works, like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. What’s one more lying piece of slander?
Thank you for this thorough comment so articulately delivered. I do remember September 11, 2001 as my son was living and working in NYC. I just don’t want the US to become the terrorists they are interrogating. As for Peggy, I don’t read her daily , but have always liked her on the Sunday morning shows and thought her a good spokesman of traditional values as well as a very smart lady, but I could be wrong. Thank you for sharing!
very interesting post – – and I am not sure how I feel about the issue – hmmm
It is very hard to take in and accept all the news that is coming out about your country. I know for me, I have always thought that the country is almost above reproach. I remember September 12,2001 and following. . . . the terror, confusion, and panic even. I understand mixed feelings, too!