12/13/2014 10:35 am ET Updated Feb 12, 2015

CIA Torture? Washington Is 'Shocked! Shocked!'


The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA's torture of its detainees reminded Americans about some ugly things done in their name. But little will change because the our governing class has no intention of ending the senseless War on Terror that makes such atrocities inevitable.

Half of Washington claims to be "Shocked! Shocked!" by the revelations. The other half is asking, "What did you think was going on?" The latter have a point. That detainees were being subject to waterboarding, sleep deprivation and beatings has hardly been a secret to the world for the last ten years.

The practice of rectal feeding was news to most of us, but not, apparently to the Justice Department prosecutors who closed down their investigation of the CIA in 2012, and say they found nothing new in the Senate Report. The Senate Committee itself had been briefed by the CIA starting in 2002. The Report claims that the Committee wasn't given the full details, e.g., they didn't know that waterboarding was meant to simulate drowning!

Barack Obama tells us that these acts were "contrary to who we are as a people." But who we are as a people is what we do as a people -- and what we allow leaders to do in our behalf.

In the wake of the report, politicians and pundits -- even some on the right -- tell us that we must make the CIA accountable. But the CIA is accountable; it does what it was established to do --- the secret dirty work. Not just torture. We apparently are a people appalled at waterboardings, but not assassinations or drone missiles that blow women and children to pieces because our state-of-the-art intelligence mistook a family wedding for a gathering of ISIS militants.

Yes, some wars are justified. But the interminable US military intervention in the Middle East makes neither moral nor strategic sense. Rather than make us safer, it is a system for producing suicide bombers who hate America. So we turn to the CIA to protect us -- but please, most of us would really rather not hear the details.

The president has already made clear he is not going to prosecute, or even fire, anyone for violating US and international laws against torture. Certainly, no one is going to demand an explanation from George W. Bush, who authorized it. The only person connected with the interrogation program charged with a crime was a CIA whistleblower now in prison after Obama's Justice Department prosecuted him for leaking classified information.

Nor will the CIA's secret budget guesstimated at $15 billion be cut. Nor will there be a diminution of its expanded mandate from intelligence gatherer to clandestine para-military strike force. Nor is it likely that the US Congress will be any more diligent in its oversight than it has been.

The result is predictable. Terms may be redefined, techniques modified and outsourcing done more carefully, but the torture of human beings will be resumed. After all, there's a war on, and people charged with "winning" it are expected to do whatever they think works. With impunity now established for those who ordered the torture and those who did the work, even Obama's ban on specific "harsh methods" will likely be overridden by a future president who has not promised it in his winning campaign.

By frightening the electorate with the specter of another "9/11" the national security apparatus will continue to have public support for whatever they say has to be done. Despite the evidence that torture rarely "works" and is often counter productive, polls show Americans approve its use if there is any chance it could help prevent another 9/11 or Boston Marathon. That these attacks were a result of US intervention in the lives of societies we don't understand gets lost in the hysteria.

As long as we are committed to this senseless War on Terror, the CIA will be asked by Presidents to do dark deeds. And to keep those deeds dark, so we can avoid facing up to "what kind of people" we are becoming.