John Krull

John Krull

Pretty, it isn’t.

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s post 9/11 torture activities reads a bit like a medieval catalogue of horrors.

Among other things, the Senate’s investigators found that CIA interrogators threatened detainees with sexual violence with broomsticks, used forced rectal feeding, resorted to forced rectal rehydration, made frequent use of waterboarding, inflicted beatings and deprived their captives of sleep for prolonged periods. One “interrogator” even threatened to rape a prisoner’s mother.

Despite the CIA’s protestations to the contrary, the report found that we often held these prisoners illegally and kept them in “black sites,” or secret prisons where no one could monitor what was done to them – and no one could hold accountable the mid-level CIA personnel and private contractors who oversaw their captivity and their interrogations.

Perhaps worst of all, the CIA – or perhaps I should say “we,” because the CIA was operating in the name of U.S. citizens, in our name – threatened to kill, without trials, not just the detainees, but their wives and their children.

To make the travesty complete, the Senate investigators also found that CIA officials routinely misled – actually, “lied to” might be a more precise term – elected officials in both the White House and Congress about both the nature of and the scope of these illegal activities.

That means, of course, that they also “misled” the American people.

There doubtless are Americans who will not find these revelations disturbing. (That view was best summed up by former George W. Bush spokeswoman Nicole Wallace, who said, “I don’t care what we did.” Perhaps she missed the part of the report that showed that the CIA often withheld information from her former boss, the commander-in-chief.)

These defenders of torture will use the classic child’s defense of bad behavior – that the other side started it. They will argue that terrorists and terrorist states honor neither the law nor human rights in carrying the fight to the United States.

If the people with whom we fight don’t respect the rules of civilized conduct, why should we?

The answer to that question is simple.

We don’t let thugs and terrorists determine our standards of conduct.

We’re supposed to be the good guys.

That means we’re supposed to operate by a higher standard than the bad guys.

The murderers in Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and elsewhere never have claimed they respect individual rights, the rule of law or the human spirit.

But individual rights, the rule of law and the human spirit aren’t just pawns in some geopolitical chess game for us. For Americans, individual rights, the rule of law and a defense of the human spirit are the whole ball game.

They are the reason we are a country.

If we don’t stand for preserving individual rights, for protecting the rule of law and for defending the human spirit, then what do we stand for?

The saddest thing about the Senate report is that it shows that we betrayed some of our most sacred principles for no good reason. The intelligence gleaned from what the CIA called “enhanced interrogation techniques” all too often proved to be worthless.

What the report demonstrates is that people subjected to torture will say anything to make the abuse stop. They will say whatever they think the torturer wants to hear, regardless of whether it is true or not. Even if they have no information of value, they’ll spit something out – spin out some fanciful tale – because all they are thinking about is making the pain stop.

So, in resorting to using torture on captives, we not only betrayed our best selves, but we also wasted a lot of time chasing wild geese.

I don’t always agree with Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona – he rarely seems to find a war he into which he does not want to plunge this country – but his response to the revelations in this report is perfect.

McCain, who was tortured himself as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said resorting to torture ourselves, regardless of the provocation, “stained our national honor.”


John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.