Retiring lawmaker on Senate torture report: 'Our values are in jeopardy'

Much of the debate following the release of the Senate torture report has centered on whether there is any evidence that the torture produced actionable intelligence. Sen. Carl Levin said Wednesday he has concluded there is no such evidence.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin speaks at the Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters on Wednesday, December 10, 2014, in Washington, DC.

As the outgoing chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan was drawn to an item buried deep in the Senate torture report, released Tuesday.

It referred to Senator Levin’s own plan to establish a commission to investigate the Central Intelligence Agency’s enhanced interrogation techniques. The CIA, for its part, feared that such a move would lead to the discovery of videotapes of the interrogation sessions.

A measure to establish such a commission ended up being defeated in November 2005, in a roughly party-line vote of 43 to 55. 

“The CIA destroyed the tapes the following day,” Levin said at a breakfast hosted by the Monitor Wednesday morning. “It reminds me of Watergate.” 

The episode raises the question, too, of how much the White House knew about the CIA’s decision to destroy the interrogation videotapes.

In one of the report’s thousands of footnotes (footnote No. 2,488, to be exact) is an e-mail by the CIA’s acting general counsel, John Rizzo, suggesting that the CIA needed to get the “right people downtown on board with the notion of our destroying the tapes,” Levin said, reading the section aloud at the breakfast. 

The “right people downtown,” said Levin, referred to the White House. The senator said he would leave it to others to determine the extent to which the executive branch knew about the destruction of the videotapes.

For now, much of the debate following the release of the torture report by the Senate Intelligence Committee has centered on whether there is any evidence at all that the torture produced actionable intelligence, as the CIA claims it did. The Senate report refutes these claims.

Levin said he has concluded “there is no evidence that it did.” However, as to another question, could torture under any circumstances produce actionable intelligence? “I imagine it could,” Levin said.

Yet even engaging in that debate serves in some sense to justify torture, which should not be used under any circumstances, Levin said. “Even if theoretically it could on some occasion produce intelligence that is really important and not obtainable by other means,” its use leads to the disintegration of US values and endangers troops who are less likely to receive the courtesies of the Geneva Conventions if their own country doesn’t abide by it, Levin said. “Our values are in jeopardy when we use torture.”

What’s more, the resources used by intelligence agencies – which threaten to become ever scarcer under sequestration, analysts note – "are going to be wasted because there are more false leads than good leads” as a result of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” Levin said. 

“People who are being tortured will say anything,” he noted. “There are more wild-goose chases that are undertaken. That uses up resources.”

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