The release today of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA's network of secret prisons where terrorism suspects were tortured with the approval of President Bush and his henchmen in violation of American law and the Geneva Conventions is surely one of the greatest anticlimaxes in American history, as well as the last hope of accountability for what I have come to call the Bush Torture Regime.
Virtually nothing in the 524-page summary, while scathing, is new. Its impact is blunted because it is heavily redacted so as not to identify individual CIA officers and agents, embarrass foreign governments who rolled out the red carpet for Uncle Sam's torturers, as well as a juicy detail here and there.
As shocking as the revelations that Americans routinely used Nazi torture techniques may have been at one time, and in the absence of evidence that torturing suspects produced valuable information, let alone lead the U.S. to Osama bin Laden, something that the Senate report notes, the steady drip-drip of magazine and newspaper articles, blog posts, International Red Cross reports, lawsuits and the occasional if rare statement by a fearless public official has blunted its impact some 13 years after the 9/11 attacks unleashed these horrors. Remember Abu Ghraib? Still revolted by it? I didn't think so.
Nevertheless, the report still was stomach turning, especially in detailing the CIA's interrogation techniques, which were approved by the agency's medical staff.
Beyond waterboarding, to which many more detainees were subjected than the mere three the CIA claimed, detainees were imprisoned in small boxes, slapped and punched, deprived of sleep for as long as a week and were sometimes told that they would be killed, their children maimed and their mothers sexually assaulted. Some were subjected to medically unnecessary "rectal feeding" -- a technique that the C.I.A.'s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert "total control over the detainee."
The report, which was compiled by Democratic staff members of the Intelligence Committee with no Republican help after its initial stages, further confirms that the CIA was beset by infighting, dysfunction and deception. The torture was so extreme at times that some CIA personnel tried to put a halt to the techniques, but were told by senior agency officials to mind their own business and carry on even after one detainee was murdered.
Forget about Bush, Vice President Cheney and the government minions who sought to put a veneer of respectability on the use of brutal interrogation techniques when, the report notes, they were completely out of the loop, then denied their use and scrambled to distance themselves from the legal jabberwocky they concocted to justify these techniques, being called to account.
As recently as Monday, Cheney defended torture as "absolutely, totally justified." Republicans with a few exceptions, notably Senator John McCain, who himself was tortured for years in a North Vietnamese prison, say the report is a partisan hack job while the right-wing media machine swung into action, acting as though the report and not the torture itself was bad for America, as well as claims that the report would "alienate" America's much-needed allies.
Bush was roused from his post-presidential somnambulance to join former intelligence officials in challenging the report's conclusions even before it was released although those conclusions are beyond reasonable dispute. And if they and Cheney had no problem with torture and actually believed it to be "humane," as the former president famously put it, why do they now have a problem with releasing the report? Of what are they so afraid?
Meanwhile, Attorney General Holder was instructed by President Obama to consider prosecuting only those who actually tortured since its use had been approved by CIA leaders and the Bush administration. No criminal charges were brought.
Why have I and everyone else who has closely followed the torture regime and its fallout correctly assumed that no one of consequence would be held accountable for this darkest of eras?
Because anyone who thought that Obama, having said boo about torture while campaigning for president in 2008, would denounce it after taking office was engaging in fuzzy-wuzzy liberal thinking. For one thing, the new president understood that denouncing, let alone going after Bush and his enablers for their crimes, would scuttle any chance he had of forging a bipartisan consensus for his ambitious first-term agenda. But even this Obama supporter is deeply disappointed at how unwilling the president has been to lay bare the regime's excesses even if stopping short of even suggesting its architects should be prosecuted.
Obama's endorsement, by his silence, of the CIA's lengthy obstruction of the Senate Intelligence Committee's release of a report without redactions is nothing less than protecting the perpetrators and legitimization of that agency's vile practices. His defense of CIA Director John Brennan, who led the campaign to stymie release of the report while tacitly approving the rogue agency's own spying on the Senate committee, makes farcical the president's statements that he believes that the U.S. should hew to international law, including the Geneva Conventions.
America's moral standing in the world community was squandered during the Bush interregnum. That Obama has allowed the release of a report that has been watered down by some of the perps themselves, puts that standing beyond repair. Yes, some of the men tortured by the CIA were dangerous -- very dangerous -- but the CIA's gruesome tactics have provided a ready recruiting tool for terrorists and further exposed American soldiers, journalists and others to the enmity that our refusal to come to terms with these depravities will provoke.