During his confirmation process, CIA Director David H. Petraeus told the… (Mark Wilson / Getty Images )
Human rights activists are pressing for the public release of a Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA's post-Sept. 11 detention and "enhanced interrogation" practices, hoping that it will answer the question once and for all of whether torture played a role in locating Osama bin Laden. Whatever the document might say about that question, releasing it would add to public knowledge about what President Obama rightly has called a "dark and painful chapter in our history."
Next week, almost a year to the day after the killing of Bin Laden, Jose Rodriguez, the former director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, will publish a book titled "Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives." According to a preview by the Washington Post, Rodriguez asserts that interrogation techniques later repudiated by the Obama administration "shielded the people of the United States from harm and led to the capture [and] killing of Osama bin Laden."
Noting that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have disputed the notion that torture produced information leading to Bin Laden's whereabouts, the group Human Rights First suggests that the committee report will contradict Rodriguez's assertions. Perhaps so, although we would also note for the record that even if torture "worked" and helped the U.S. find Bin Laden, that wouldn't justify waterboarding and other acts of cruelty.
The better argument for releasing the report once it is complete is that the American people have a right to know in detail how understandable apprehension about a repeat of Sept. 11 led to orchestrated efforts, blessed by theGeorge W. Bushadministration's lawyers, to subject suspected terrorists to humiliating and degrading treatment of the kind proscribed by the Geneva Conventions.
Much is already known about these abuses, thanks to media coverage and a report by the CIA's inspector general. But the Senate Intelligence Committee, which began its investigation of detention and interrogation policies in early 2008 and has sifted through millions of pages of documents, is in a position to provide the public with a comprehensive narrative of how torture insinuated itself into U.S. policy — along with the committee's conclusions about whether enhanced interrogation produced useful information that couldn't have been obtained in other ways.
That information is of more than historical interest. During his confirmation process, CIA DirectorDavid H. Petraeustold the panel that "a holistic and comprehensive review of the U.S. government's detention and interrogation programs can lead to valuable lessons that might inform future policies." Policymakers shouldn't be the only ones to have the advantage of those lessons; so should the public.