From outside the US, the Senate intelligence committee’s 528-page report on CIA torture techniques—merely the abridged, non-secret version of the 6,700-page original—seems like America at its best. Harshly critical of an agency that did evil things to produce dubious intelligence while lying to its overlords, it seems to embody the country’s best traditions of transparency and honest self-examination.
But inside the US, the report is a sullied, discredited thing. This was no grave, bipartisan effort like the report of the 9/11 Commission, but—as critics would have it, and not entirely wrongly—a labor of ass-covering spite, produced solely by the committee’s majority Democrats and crafted to shield their own complicity. Republicans have attacked it; former CIA chiefs have risen up (paywall) to defend themselves. And Democrats are worrying about what will happen when, a few years hence, their rivals expose the current administration’s enthusiastic use of drone strikes to the same merciless sunlight.
That is a shame, for the report, though flawed, is truly damning. But, one might shrug, so what? If partisan politics is what it takes to have a national debate about the ethics of warfare, so be it; democracy is messy, and it should take what transparency it can get.
However, this national debate is not like those about race, guns, or the banking system. There, the winners and losers from a policy all have votes or campaign funds with which to sway the outcome. In warfare, the losers—the tortured suspects, the people with relatives blown to bits by drones—are foreigners, with no say. However indignantly liberals may protest the bad things done in their name, when the call comes to “keep America safe,” how many of them will dare challenge it?