CIA Interrogation Tactics

BOB ABERNETHY, host: There were controversial developments this week in the debate over how the CIA interrogated terrorism suspects after 9/11. The Justice Department released details of a 2004 CIA inspector general’s report detailing chilling interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. The attorney general ordered an investigation of what happened and appointed a veteran prosecutor to find out.

Did CIA interrogators go beyond the guidance they had? If so, should they be punished, and should Bush administration officials who authorized the techniques also be punished? We explore the moral issues with Shaun Casey, professor of ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington. Shaun, welcome. Let me take you back to the atmosphere right after 9/11. There was tremendous pressure on the administration to prevent another attack, to do whatever was necessary, to find out whatever they could about whether there was going to be another attack. Didn’t that justify the interrogation techniques that were put into place?

SHAUN CASEY (Professor Ethics, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, DC): I would argue that it’s precisely at those moments of crisis that we need to rely on our moral and legal tradition and resist giving up things like respect for the dignity of the human person, and I think that moral tradition argues that no matter who the person is, as a result of that dignity, they shouldn’t be subjected to the kinds of torture we suspect went on.

ABERNETHY: And even if you’re pretty sure you might be able to save several thousand more innocent lives, that would not trump the dignity of the individual prisoner?

PROFESSOR CASEY: What’s interesting even at the time, and now we know for sure, such information did not exist. We did not extract through torture any information that directly led to preventing another similar sort of tragic event. So in essence no, I think we should resist, because we don’t possess that kind of advance knowledge.

ABERNETHY: Apparently the CIA tried hard to keep what was done within the guidelines that existed but that in some cases people did exceed those guidelines. Should they be punished?

PROFESSOR CASEY: Absolutely. I think if in fact we gave guidance to those interrogators, and they still violated those guidelines, there needs to be a moral accountability in order to reinforce this notion that we do respect the dignity of human beings.

ABERNETHY: And what about up the chain of command? If the investigations reveal that high officials, maybe up to the vice president and the president, authorized things that shouldn’t have been done should they be punished?

PROFESSOR CASEY: I think they should be held morally accountable, and that doesn’t necessarily mean criminalization or actual legal punishment, but I think in a democracy that espouses certain moral values we need to have accountability, not only of what has happened, but it also prepares us morally to face the future when we may find ourselves in a similar sort of situation when we’re facing a crisis and we face pressure to abandon legal and moral precedents that we’ve observed.

ABERNETHY: But if a new administration can have a criminal investigation of it’s predecessor and put people perhaps on trial, that creates an enormous partisan gridlock and nothing else would be done.

PROFESSOR CASEY: Well, that’s right, and I think that’s what the president is struggling with right now. We’re looking at simply about 10 cases where he is, actually where the attorney general has asked the prosecutor to investigate. At this point I’m not aware of any attempt for a comprehensive criminal prosecution. On the other hand, I would argue it might be better to think about a bipartisan commission that in a sense grants amnesty legally to all the participants so we can learn what really happened from the top of the system to the bottom, as a way not only of holding them accountable morally but also preparing us to face the future when we may find ourselves under similar circumstances, and I think that’s a way to in a sense take some of the air out of the partisanship which seems to be growing at this time.

ABERNETHY: You have read what you could of the CIA inspector general’s report in 2004. Quickly, can you sum it up? What did you find? What did they conclude?

PROFESSOR CASEY: They concluded that there weren’t a lot of rules in place, and they had to move very quickly to give guidelines, which they did. Secondly, they confessed that some of their own employees violated those guidelines. But perhaps most importantly of all they concluded they cannot say these enhanced interrogation techniques led to unique knowledge that could not have been gotten by other means, and so that really casts a light of doubt on the effectiveness of these techniques.

ABERNETHY: Many thanks to Shaun Casey of Wesley Theological Seminary.