In today’s Washington post, former Congressman (1989-2004) and Former CIA Director (2004-2006) Porter Goss baldly accuses Congressional leaders of both parties of having been well aware that “enhanced” interrogation techniques were being used on “high-value” al-Qaeda prisoners. He accuses them today of craven denial of what they knew perfectly well was going on in 2003. Of this, frankly, I have little doubt. Selective amnesia for momentary political advantage is a bipartisan disease.
I am not so sure I agree with some of the implications of Director Goss’ editorial, though. If Congress approved of torture, that is no justification for it, either morally or legally. Congress did not repeal its legal prohibition against torture or our subscription to the Geneva Conventions. If Democrats liked torture back when they were still scared of terrorists, that doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do, either from a policy or an ethical perspective.
I can appreciate that Director Goss may be sincere in his utilitarianism. That does not mean I agree with it — ends do not always justify means, particularly when those ends are unusually odious. I say that despite understanding that statecraft and government are not always beautiful things to contemplate. I also can appreciate that he wants to stand by the people for whom he was responsible and no doubt still feels responsible, people who did their jobs at his direction. And I can appreciate his revulsion and the prospect of a political circus taking place when his professional instincts are that none of this stuff should have been made public in the first place. Indeed, the political circus that would surround a Truth Commission is the main objection I have to that idea.
Still, at this point, much of this information is public, whether it should have been or not. It is ugly. And Director Goss is right to point out that blame does not rest on a partisan basis; if politicians get to absorb blame here, Democrats who knew or should have known what was going on and could have done something to try to stop it need to absorb their share of the blame, too.