The to-be-released Senate report on CIA interrogation techniques, and possible violations of al-qaeda suspects’ rights under said interrogations is angering many in Washington, including those in the intelligence community. Charles Krauthammer asks the obvious question “what is to be gained here?” and those critical warn of risks to both allies, intelligence agents and military personnel abroad. While one can speculate on the exact motives of the White House for insisting on the report’s release, the question underlying the fuss is simple: do suspected terrorists enjoy ample human rights protection? Especially when being interrogated? Those who insist on an absolute yes have no place in any debate. They are the same who suggested we look carefully into our own hearts in the days after 9/11, and generously apportioned blame for the attacks on America itself and not on the crazed, medieval fanaticism of islamic extremists. Those who insists on an absolute no risk alienating local allies in the Middle East and elsewhere and isolate America in its efforts to contain and, God willing, bring an end to this type of terrorism.

So the question becomes one of balance, a seemingly impossible balance at times, between the intelligence community’s legislated duty to defend the nation, and a minimum acceptable guarantee of some form of due process and rights for those who may have life-saving information and are unwilling to share it with the CIA and other intelligence agencies. The techniques involved may not be very comfortable, even rather painful both physically and psychologically, and they are designed to be so. But they must be effective at the same time, and not produce confessions that lack credibility, and are given by desperate witnesses who have endured extreme pain. That this balance has been endlessly studied and quantified by the intelligence communities is beyond any doubt. That the balance should be up to the intelligence community itself is not a good idea, however. That means Congressional and even judicial oversight of some form. But with that oversight comes the responsibility to not endanger the very purpose of these interrogations. The release of a sensitive report by a lame duck Senate does precisely that; endanger future intelligence gathering efforts, as well as lives of intelligence agents, military personnel and others overseas. When all countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America enjoy stable representative democratic governments with an independent judiciary that pursues and punishes terrorism, the intelligence community will have to provide the commensurate degree of transparency. That time is a ways off. America’s intelligence agencies already operate under judicial and congressional constraints, constraints that may have played a part in 9/11. A flexible system of oversight that allows them to operate but holds them accountable is a good idea. An unwarranted release of potentially dangerous information is not.

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