One foot over line of legality
According to the Central Intelligence Agencies official Web site, the CIA has a handful of responsibilities, all channeled toward protecting the United States and ensuring intelligent conduct internationally. As the Web site says, "The CIA director's responsibilities include: collecting intelligence through human sources and by other appropriate means … correlating and evaluating intelligence related to the national security and providing appropriate dissemination of such intelligence." Note that in this small except from their "About the CIA" page, the word "appropriate" is used twice; the CIA promises to administrate their power in appropriate means. Irony arises when one reads their statements and, in turn, studies the history of their behavior and their current-day policies. To put it bluntly, the CIA has proved itself to be anything but appropriate in certain areas of conduct. In particular, the interrogation tactics of the CIA have been a controversial subject of heated debate. Their harsh tactics when questioning terror prisoners have been questioned from not only a moral standpoint but a legal standpoint.
Most obviously, the harsh techniques adopted by the CIA after the September 11 attacks are clear violations of the Geneva Convention. Adopted on August 12, 1949, the Geneva Convention set the principles for international law for humanitarian issues, chiefly the handling of prisoners of war. Article 13 of the Geneva Convention states that prisoners of war must be dealt with like human beings, but the new tactics that the CIA adopted in 2002 violate such rights of prisoners of war. Similarly, the provisions of the International Convention Against Torture has been violated by the CIA's conduct. The techniques that the CIA has enforced, while they certainly do all not constitute as full-fledged torture, still violate the "humane" treatment that the Geneva Convention demands.
Most controversial, waterboarding, where the prisoner is strapped upside down onto an elevated board with the continual flow of water into his or her mouth, is clearly illegal under international law, as it entails mock execution. Mock execution surely constitutes as torture, which is prohibited under the Geneva Convention and U.S. law itself, but it has been permitted for the CIA to exercise by the Bush administration. Waterboarding has proven to have a shocking capability to crack even the most hardened prisoners, as they believe they are truly drowning. CIA officers who subjected themselves to waterboarding have cracked in a matter of less than 20 seconds. Surely, obtaining confessions perhaps due solely because of the fear of death is neither an accurate way of extracting confessions nor a humane way.
Not only do the CIA's interrogation tactics violate the Geneva Convention, but on a broader spectrum, simply the interrogational process itself and its results have caused the eyebrow of the law to rise in skepticism. The CIA's tactics have been criticized and questioned not only by an assortment of American citizens, ranging from "normal" citizens to members of the Senate and Congress, but also by former CIA agents themselves. The reliability of the confessions produced by the severe interrogation techniques is under harsh scrutiny, as many people think that since the prisoners are subject to such harsh treatment, they may confess in a desperate attempt to simply have the treatment cease. It is "bad interrogation. I mean, you can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture is bad enough," said former CIA officer Bob Baer. Other former CIA officers, specifically Larry Johnson, believe that the CIA's conduct when dealing with terror prisoners equalizes the United States with the Nazis and Soviets. "What CIA field officers know firsthand is that it is better to build a relationship of trust … than to extract quick confessions through tactics such as those used by the Nazis and Soviets," Johnson said.
Further, not only has criticism of the CIA's officials who conduct the interrogations heightened, but former President George W. Bush has been severely criticized for allowing the CIA's interrogational abilities to override that of the military's, a power that is questionable in its legality. President Bush, whose administration's core conviction was that the executive branch must have unquestioned power when in the midst of war, raised controversy when he vetoed the Congressional bill that attempted to limit the CIA's techniques when questioning terror suspects. Many people felt that Bush had the opportunity to end the cruel treatment that the CIA inflicts on prisoners, but instead of seizing the opportunity, he opened up doors for inhumane interrogations to wage on for a very long time. Bush has proven to be decisive and unrelenting is his decision to support the CIA's harsh tactics. His decision to veto the Congressional bill has created uneasy feelings, especially among generals of the U.S. Army, who fear that such harsh treatment might be reversed and inflicted upon American prisoners of war. Jennifer Daskal, senior Counterterrorism Counsel at Human Rights Watch, is one such contester. "All U.S interrogators, whether they work for the CIA or the military, should be held to the same standards," Daskal said. "Having separate rules muddies the waters and increases the possibility for misunderstanding and abuse."
Evidently, the CIA has not been conducting very "appropriate" activities. With little regard for the law, it has managed to squeak around their boundaries with the help of the Bush administration that supports the use of torture-related procedures on prisoners of war. The CIA has certainly has placed a foot over the line of legality, but perhaps, in light of our rather new president, change is to come.
Jenna Greenfield is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. Her column, "Triumphs and Woes," runs on alternative Wednesdays.