Why We Need Leaks: The Senate Report, the CIA & Torture

Sorry for having neglected the blog lately. Last week I was in Chicago for the Midwest Political Science Association Conference to present a paper on the IMF and institutional change. On the personal front, my girlfriend and I are having a baby, so that’s understandably received a great deal of my attention as well!

I wanted to weigh in on recent leak of a U.S. Senate report that condemns CIA interrogation practices from 2002 to 2006 to be brutal and essentially tantamount to torture. In addition, the CIA deceived lawmakers, journalists and White House lawyers by cherry-picking what they did and did not share in their releases. There’s now a very public fight between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA over the findings of the report, with Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein taking the lead in pressuring the White House to get behind the report and its public release. (A former director of the CIA accused Sen. Feinstein of taking an “emotional” approach to the report; a claim that smacks of sexism, since if anyone has employed cold political calculus in his or her political career, Sen. Feinstein certainly qualifies.)

A lengthy diatribe about the immorality of torture is not needed here. If you’re still one of the boosters for waterboarding, “extraordinary rendition,” etc., chances are that neither I nor the Senate report will change your mind. But I would like to highlight that one of the findings of the report was that “unauthorized press disclosures” were one of the reasons cited as to why the 2006-2009 torture program ultimately ended. A less fancy word for “unauthorized press disclosures” is “leaks.” In other words, the people who afforded the CIA the benefit of the doubt — the politicians lining up to praise anyone and everyone ostensibly “fighting terrorism,” the journalists begging for access — dropped the ball when it came to factually reporting what the CIA was actually doing. It was the leakers and the whistleblowers, those who decided to follow their own moral compasses rather than the “proper” procedures and protocols.

This is significant because, while the media obsesses over bloody tragedies (from bus crashes to missing planes), the debates over what is to be done about Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden remain hot topics. The former is behind bars while the latter resides in Russia due to rightly fearing prosecution here in the United States. Their crime? Sharing with the public the clandestine activities of their government — the same government that obscured and misled the public from the truth of its legally dubious activites abroad and at home. And there is no shortage of people cheerleading for the administration, arguing that we should trust the Powers That Be and accept that the likes of Manning and Showden are traitors and turncoats.

There are no doubt many lessons to be taken from the Senate Report and hopefully it will somehow manage to make it into media rotation. That said, I also hope the debate that follows goes beyond the usual “liberty versus safety” platitudes and acknowledges that the CIA could very well be continuing to torture in the name of the U.S. and its citizens if it weren’t for the fact that some intrepid individuals decided to do the right thing rather than follow the law.