The last month, I've been traveling around the world, trying to unwind from the intensity of the last year. But in the course of that, I've gained a greater perspective of America and our role in the world. I'll post more on that when I return, but the news that Leon Panetta has been nominated for head of the CIA caught my eye, because one of the things I've learned is that foreigners don't differentiate between the CIA, FBI, Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force, or civilian. To them, there is only "America."
How the CIA operates directly impacts the reception that America receives around the world, and how willing others are to work with us or against us. For our troops fighting in the warzone, America's reputation means a lot. For them, it is crucial that the new administration undo the torture policies of the Bush administration. That's why I was pleased that someone committed to ending torture policies, like Leon Panetta, has been tapped to be the new Director of the CIA.
When the United States tortures, it undermines our troops' ability to win the hearts and minds of potential allies, which is crucial to succeeding in the battles and wars we are in. Further, it gives the green light to our enemies to torture any Americans they capture.
Anecdotal evidence points to the success we have when we don't torture, and how non-torture policies lead to good things for those men and women in uniform. If you look at the first Gulf War, the enemy was more likely to surrender then, knowing that they would be treated humanely. In this war, it wasn't torture that led to the capture of Saddam Hussein. It was offers of money for information, which yielded good intelligence and the capture of the dictator. On the flipside, we know that torture yields bad information that puts our troops in unnecessary danger. For instance, information that tied al Qaeda to Iraq, and was used as a rationale for the entire Iraq War. For a host of other arguments on why torture and the military don't mix, I encourage you to read this piece from a former senior military interrogator in Iraq, MajorMatthew, at VetVoice.com.
For those of us who served, it's very simple: The new head of the CIA must be absolutely dogged in demanding that any forms of torture end immediately.
As to the qualifications, I'm not an intel guy, so it's not my place to judge. However, I do know that very qualified individuals like Porter Goss and George Tenet weren't good CIA chiefs, because they were all too willing to be enablers for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. So, to me, principle has to stand for something, here. In fact, it means a lot.
Even still, Mr. Panetta certainly understands the role that intelligence plays in the greater scheme of things, having been Chief of Staff to President Clinton, and a member of the Iraq Study Group.
But, most importantly, he understands the importance of our intelligence apparatus operating on the moral, ethical, and legal high ground. This is a man who will change the way the agency works, for the better, and that will positively impact the atmosphere in which our troops are operating.