Max Boot was my guest today, and he blasted the release of the Senate report on interrogation and detention policies during the Bush years. Links to the Minority Report and other rebuttals which Boot and I discuss are at www.CIASavesLives.com.
HH: Probably not many Christmas parties will be as happy tonight in Washington, D.C. with the release of the Senate report, which has been called by the former members of the CIA who put together www.ciasaveslives.com, the single-worst example of Congressional oversight in our many years of government service. Joining me to discuss it, Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Hello, Max, welcome and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you in advance.
MB: Thanks very much.
HH: What do you make of this report?
MB: Well, I’m dismayed that it’s being released, that it really is not clear to me what the imperative is to put this out unto the world when we know it’s going to have harmful consequences. We know it’s going to become a recruiting tool for terrorists, that they will go to town on all of these allegations contained within the report. And yet the practices described therein have already been discontinued, long discontinued. So this is certainly not an attempt to change current policy. To me, it’s very counterproductive and harmful, and I’m deeply sorry that Senator Feinstein decided to release it.
HH: The website I referred to, which was put together by a group of former CIA officials with hundreds of years of combined service, writes that Congress was in the loop. The so-called Gang of Eight of top Congressional leaders were briefed in detail on the program. The briefings were detailed and drew reactions that ranged from approval to no objection to encouragement to be even more aggressive. Again, none of this context appears in the majority’s report. Political report, then, Max Boot?
MB: It certainly looks that way, and that’s certainly the impression you get from reading the Republican dissent. I mean, this is not at all a bipartisan document. It was prepared by the Democratic majority staff over the fierce objections of the Republicans. And now it’s out there for the entire world to make of it what they will. You know, to me, this is in some ways reminiscent of the 1970s when you had the Church Committee and the Pike Committee holding hearings, and releasing reports about alleged CIA misconduct, all of which turned out to actually be approved by the various presidents of the United States. So it really wasn’t CIA misconduct they were objecting to. It was covert actions that were fully and legally authorized, just as this program was fully and legally authorized by President Bush with the acquiescence and knowledge of the Congressional leadership, as you just mentioned.
HH: Now the executive summary of the Senate minority report blasts the report as well. And I’m curious as to whether or not the timing will alert many people, including those who might otherwise be influenced by this? This is a lame duck. Dianne Feinstein is, you know, 81 years old, about to leave her Senate career behind. She’s not going to get much authority back ever, sort of a last gasp for attention. Do you think it’s understood that way abroad?
MB: No, I don’t think it is. I don’t think people are alive to these nuances. I don’t think people notice the fact that this is, you know, a report being shoved out by the committee Democrats over the objection of the committee Republicans. This is just going to become propaganda fodder all over the world. It’s going to make allied governments hesitant to work with the United States, because you know, we ask a lot of governments to go out on a limb to help us capture and hold terrorist suspects. And now their cooperation with us is being revealed. And it’s going to certainly be used by the likes of the Islamic State and al Qaeda and other groups dedicated to our destruction, this will be, as former directors of the CIA have warned, this will become a recruiting tool for them. So to me, this is a very sad way for Senator Feinstein, who has actually been a pretty responsible and centrist Democrat throughout her career, this is a pretty sad way for her to go out.
HH: In the minority report, it says that the majority report that Senator Feinstein released today includes indications of political consideration. Specifically, it says we found indications of political considerations within the study, for example, the study uses out of context quotes from certain minority members to suggest incorrectly that they supported certain positions taken by the study. The study omits additional comments by the same members which contradict the out of context statements. That tells me, Max Boot, that had they waited even two more weeks, this report would not have been written the way that it is, meaning that it’s written by, in essence, an illegitimate body that has been repudiated by the country.
MB: That’s true, and I think what makes this really troubling is the fact that both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have a long record of bipartisan cooperation. This is not, these are not these committees where there’s typically a lot of partisan bickering and posturing. Most things are done with unanimity. So the fact that Senator Feinstein has pushed forward this report over such strong and vociferous opposition from very centrist Republicans, everybody on the panel except for Susan Collins, that, to me, is troubling. And it should signal right there that this is not an objective assessment of the facts, that there is some other agenda here, whether partisan or personal going on here, and it should certainly lead to questions about the report’s conclusions. But I fear that all this nuance is going to be lost in the kind of hyperactive media coverage that this report is receiving.
HH: Well, I want to make sure we pay attention to some of those conclusions. The minority report disputes them. They specifically dispute the idea that the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques was not effective. In fact, they say they were very effective. What do you think of that, Max?
MB: Well, you have competing factual claims. And certainly, all the CIA directors of the last decade have said, including the current one, John Brennan, have said that those techniques were effective in uncovering al Qaeda plots and stopping terrorist attacks. On the other side, you have Senator Feinstein and her investigators who claim that’s not the case. You know, it’s hard to know where the truth lies. But instinctively, I think, the fact that so many CIA directors who have overseen these programs are saying that putting their credibility on the line and saying that these programs have been effective, I think that should certainly count for something. But you know, whether they were effective or not doesn’t go to the issue of whether this report should have been released. And we can have all these debates about whether we should have used these interrogation techniques, which arguably amount to torture. You can have debates about whether they were effective or not. All that kind of stuff, you can debate it ad nauseum. But you don’t have to release this report with all these gruesome details, which serves to simply sensationalize the whole debate. And again, as I stressed earlier, and I think this is the big damage being done here, this is really providing fodder for the propaganda mills of our enemies, just as the revelations of Edward Snowden have done, and just as the revelations of Bradley Manning, and just as, you know, the revelation of Abu Ghraib did in 2004. Those also became prime recruiting tools for al Qaeda. That’s not to say that the underlying conduct can certainly be wrong, and there’s no question in the case of Abu Ghraib, conduct was wrong. It was not one of these approved interrogation programs. But you can still object to the conduct, you can still hold people accountable if you need to without releasing these kinds of sensational details, which harm American national security interests, and harm our ability to fight terrorism here and now.
HH: Max Boot, thank you very much for that. Also, I would encourage everyone to go visit, read the minority report. Things like the dirty bomb tall buildings plot, the capture of Jose Padilla, many other things, indeed the result of, even indeed the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the result of the enhanced interrogation techniques.
End of interview.