Dear John…

…are you fucking kidding me?

The John in question here is John Brennan, current Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. And below are some things that he said in a news conference late last year, in the aftermath of the release of the torture report (text & quotations courtesy of this article from Foreign Policy).

…some of the methods used were ‘abhorrent’.

‘The cause-and-effect relationship between the application of those EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] and ultimate provision of that information” from detainees “is unknown and unknowable,” Brennan said in response to a question. “But for someone to say that there was no intelligence of value, of use, that came from those detainees once they were subjected to EITs, I think that lacks any foundation at all.’

Is he listening to himself speak? This is absolutely preposterous commentary. First, abhorrent. Yes, they were that. Also we might consider other words and phrases like unacceptable, entirely at odds with the founding principles of liberal democracy, repellent, a serious stain on the moral record of the United States, torture.

But fine, you said abhorrent, and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, so we’ll leave it at that.

Thus, we have a set of methods acknowledged by the man who now oversees the agency which employed them to be abhorrent. And about these methods he further acknowledges not only that we don’t know whether or not they played any role in extracting useful information from prisoners, but that we cannot ever know whether torture affects prisoners’ provision of information. This is magical thinking of the highest order, and it is downright appalling coming from the CIA head. This is institutionalized superstition, the national security apparatus’ version of knocking on wood. And it’s bullshit – you don’t get to play at “better safe than sorry” when the identify of the country is at stake.

I take the position that torture is morally wrong, but if you could prove its efficacy as an extractor of reliable information, at least there are self-coherent moral systems (utilitarianism comes to mind) that would justify its use in certain situations. But Brennan doesn’t even try to go there. Instead we get the patently absurd assertion that despite having, or not having, we can’t ever know, any relation to successfully obtaining information from prisoners, torture nevertheless has intelligence value.

So once again: Dear John Brennan, are you fucking kidding me?