TIME politics

Why the Torture Report Won’t Actually Change Anyone’s Views On Torture

Dianne Feinstein
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, talks with reporters after sharing a report on the CIA and it's torture methods, December 9, 2014. Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Matt Motyl is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

We are especially motivated to preserve our moral beliefs and discount evidence that challenges our views

If you know a person’s politics, you can make an educated guess about their views on the events in Ferguson, Eric Garner, the alleged rape at the University of Virginia, and a variety of CIA “dark sites” around the world. Of course, people will justify their condemnation (or praise) of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” by claiming that torture doesn’t produce reliable evidence (or that it does). But what’s the relationship between their moral evaluation of the practice and their belief in its efficacy? For most people, the evaluation comes first, and it leads to their beliefs about whether or not torture “works.”

Social psychologists have studied this process for decades. In 1979, Charles Lord, Lee Ross and Mark Lepper asked Stanford undergraduates to evaluate the quality of two scientific studies examining the effectiveness of capital punishment in deterring future crime. These scientific studies used the same methods but were evaluated in strikingly different ways by those who supported and opposed capital punishment. You’d think that people exposed to a range of findings would be pulled toward the center, but in fact they ended up further apart than when they began. People drew support from their favored study and dismissed the other one.

More recently, Yale University professor Dan Kahan conducted an experiment where he gave participants profiles of experts on climate science, nuclear-waste disposal and concealed-carry gun laws. All these experts had advanced degrees from the world’s foremost universities and held prestigious jobs in their relevant fields. After participants read the expert profiles, Kahan presented them with the experts’ conclusions that either supported or refuted the participants’ views. When participants were asked to evaluate the experts’ scholarly credentials (remember that all these authors had similarly remarkable academic bona fides), what Kahan found was that participants viewed scientists as experts only if they confirmed the participants’ pre-existing beliefs. Both these studies, and dozens more like them, suggest that people apply different standards to evidence that supports their views than to evidence that challenges their views. We are prone to uncritically accept arguments and information that confirm our view while unfairly rejecting arguments and information that challenge our view—regardless of what our view is.

Consider the challenge of sifting through thousands of pages of documentation on the effectiveness of the CIA’s brutal interrogation tactics in generating actionable intelligence. How might you respond if you were presented with evidence that challenged your view on torture? If you oppose torture and saw evidence suggesting that it does result in high-quality actionable intelligence, would you change your position and come to support the use of torture? If you support the use of torture in some situations and saw evidence suggesting that it never results in any quality intelligence, would you change your position and come to oppose the use of torture? Odds are you would discount the information that challenged your views on torture.

In part, this is because torture is a moral issue, and we are especially motivated to preserve faith in the truth of our moral beliefs. Research by social psychologists Peter Ditto and Brittany Liu demonstrates that people’s moral beliefs shape their interpretation of facts. Specifically, they asked more than 1,500 people in a survey at YourMorals.org how moral or immoral forceful interrogations were and how likely those forceful interrogations would be to yield positive consequences, like actionable intelligence. They found that people who believed torture was inherently immoral assumed that any information gleaned from it was likely to be unreliable. On the other hand, people less squeamish about the morality of torture assumed that information gleaned from torture was potentially life-saving. In a related experiment, they found that when people were led to think of a political policy in moralistic terms, it changed their beliefs about the policy’s costs and benefits to fit with their moral view; the more morally desirable the policy, the more effective it was seen to be. In other words, people’s beliefs about the morality or immorality of torture biased their interpretation of the facts regarding torture’s (in-)effectiveness.

Former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Research, though, suggests that it is not so easy to separate fact from belief. And our beliefs change what “facts” we decide count as facts. Furthermore, once we decide something is a moral issue and that our position owns the moral high ground, facts become less relevant. If they do not confirm our belief, we assume that the facts were produced by people who were biased by some ulterior motive. For example, Republican Senators Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who generally supported the use of enhanced interrogation techniques and opposed the declassification of the CIA torture memo, responded in a joint statement saying that the “study by Senate Democrats is an ideologically motivated and distorted recounting of historical events.” In contrast, President Obama, who generally opposed the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, responded to the release of the report by saying it “reinforces my long-held view that these harsh methods were not only inconsistent with our values as a nation, they did not serve our broader counterterrorism efforts or our national-security interests.” In other words, supporters and opponents of torture, or conservatives and liberals alike, exhibited the same motivated cognitive bias where they evaluated information in ways to confirm their beliefs.

In conclusion, the human brain is built to evaluate evidence in biased ways. If information fits with our moral values, we are quick to accept that evidence as strong and true, furthering our belief that we are correct and that anyone who disagrees with us is wrong and probably immoral. If the information contradicts our moral values, we are quick to discount that evidence as flawed or biased by the nefarious ideological motives of others. This tendency is especially true when the evidence is complex and ambiguous, as is the case with the Senate’s CIA torture report and with the conflicting testimony of dozens of witnesses interviewed in grand jury hearings in the Darren Wilson case in Ferguson.

So the next time you’re debating torture or any other contentious political issue — climate change, genetically modified foods, hydraulic fracking or the invisible hand of the free market — remember that your opinion is just as biased as the person you are debating and that your beliefs may not be based on facts. Rather, your facts may be based on your beliefs. And that goes for the other side too.

Motyl is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a political psychologist who studies group conflict

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME intelligence

Attorney General Allows Limited Subpoena of New York Times Journalist

A man crosses the Central Intelligence A
A man crosses the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on August 14, 2008. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

Attorney General Eric Holder has given federal prosecutors permission to subpoena New York Times reporter James Risen for some information regarding his connection to a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Though New York Times reporter James Risen has been adamant about not revealing his sources and the Department of Justice indicated last week it would not force the Pulitzer Prize winner to reveal who his sources were, prosecutors announced Tuesday they will be seeking his testimony in the case of Jeffery Sterling.

The Department of Justice charged Sterling, a former agent, of unlawfully obtaining documents and spilling national secrets in 2010, and subsequently accused him of being a source in Risen’s 2006 book State of War.

Information regarding confidentiality agreements for Risen’s book, whether articles and chapters from his book, “accurately reflect information provided to him by his source (or sources), that statements attributed to an unnamed source were, in fact, made by an unnamed source, and that statements attributed to an identified source were, in fact, made by an identified source” will be sought during the trial, scheduled to begin on Jan. 12.

According to a court filing, prosecutors needed approval in regard to the subpoena given new Department of Justice guidelines on seeking information from the news media. The guidance, issued in July, provides some protection from members of the media in civil and criminal proceedings. The guidance came following scandals involving the DOJ seizing phone records and emails of reporters from the Associated Press and Fox News.

Media organizations and advocacy groups including the Newspaper Association of America have been calling on Congress to pass a law that would protect journalists from having to reveal their confidential sources in criminal and civil proceedings without having to face legal consequences.

A federal judge in Virginia requested last week that the federal attorneys come to a clear decision on whether or not they would subpoena Risen by Tuesday.

Requests for comment from Risen’s attorneys were not immediately answered.

TIME North Korea

North Korea Calls for U.N. Probe of CIA ‘Torture Crimes’

NKOREA-POLITICS-MILITARY
This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 12, 2014 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un inspecting the command of Korean People's Army Unit 534. KNS—AFP/Getty Images

North Korea's UN representative decried CIA interrogations as "the gravest human rights violations in the world."

North Korea’s U.N. Ambassador has called on the world body to investigate the CIA for subjecting captured al-Qaeda operatives to “brutal, medieval” forms of torture.

The statement comes as the U.N. Security Council prepares to debate North Korea’s human rights violations on December 22 and 23, the Associated Press reports.

“The so-called ‘human rights issue’ in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is politically fabricated and, therefore, it is not at all relevant to the regional or international peace and security,” wrote North Korea’s Ja Song-nam in a letter to the current council president.

Ja then pivoted to the U.S. Senate’s report on interrogation techniques against detainees. “The recently revealed CIA torture crimes committed by the United States, which have been conducted worldwide in the most brutal medieval forms, are the gravest human rights violations in the world.”

A United Nations commission documented wide-ranging human rights violations in North Korean prison camps. The 400-page report, based on prisoner testimonials, detailed acts of “enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence.”

Read next: North Korea Says ‘Righteous’ Sony Hack May Be Work of Its Supporters

MONEY Workplace

Why Smart People Send Stupid Emails That Can Ruin Their Careers

Producer Scott Rudin and Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairman Amy Pascal attend the Sony Pictures Classic 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards Party held at The Beverly Hilton hotel on January 16, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California.
Producer Scott Rudin and Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairman Amy Pascal publicly apologized for racially insensitive emails. Neilson Barnard—Getty Images

High-profile email leaks show, once again, the danger of assuming that what you write is for the recipient's eyes only.

What were they thinking?

When Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin were exchanging their now infamous emails, leaked in the Sony Pictures Entertainment hacking scandal, they clearly weren’t worried about what would happen to their careers if anyone else read their notes.

You have to wonder why not: Companies routinely monitor worker communications. Email is regularly used as evidence in lawsuits and criminal investigations. Now hacking is another threat. Email isn’t private. Everyone knows that.

Pascal, who climbed the ranks at Sony Pictures Entertainment to become co-chairman, and Rudin, an Oscar-winning movie producer, are not stupid people. Yet they are just the latest example of high-profile executives who send email without a thought about what would happen if the outside world read them.

Remember David Petraeus, the four-star general and CIA director who resigned from his job after an FBI investigation inadvertently turned up emails that exposed an extramarital affair? Ironically, Petraeus didn’t even send the emails. He wrote them and saved them to his drafts folder. He and his girlfriend shared the password and simply logged in to read the drafts.

Then there’s New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who fired his chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly after it was revealed that she sent emails joking about traffic tie-ups caused by lane closings on the George Washington Bridge. The closures, an alleged retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie’s bid for governor, spawned a scandal that continues to affect Christie’s presidential prospects.

And most recently, a Harvard business school professor publicly apologized last week for an epic email rant that went viral, in which he threatened to sic the authorities on a local Chinese food restaurant that allegedly overcharged him $4 for a dinner delivery.

Even though senders should know better, “there’s an illusion of privacy, because the truth is, most of us haven’t been hacked or even know if higher-ups are reading our email,” says Dana Brownlee, president of Professionalism Matters. When it comes to successful people, she says, ego often trumps common sense. “Those with power often reach a point where they let their guard down because they feel somewhat invincible.”

It’s a trap that any of us can easily fall into, particularly in today’s time-crunched workplace, where it’s often easier to shoot off an email or text rather than pick up the phone—or, better still, walk down the hall—to discuss a sensitive issue. “We all have to be really careful about using email almost exclusively to communicate,” Brownlee says. “It’s dangerous.”

Brownlee suggests giving yourself this simple test: How comfortable would you be if your boss, a co-worker or the person you are writing about read it? Not sure? Don’t send it.

“Warning flags truly should go off in your head any time you prepare to hit send on anything you wouldn’t want to read on the front page of the paper,” says Brownlee. “Save the jokes and snarky or personal stuff for one-on-one time. You’ll be glad you did.”

TIME intelligence

Scalia Defends CIA Tactics After Torture Report

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia waits for the beginning of the taping of "The Kalb Report" on April 17, 2014 at the National Press Club in Washington.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia waits for the beginning of the taping of "The Kalb Report" on April 17, 2014 at the National Press Club in Washington. Alex Wong—Getty Images

The conservative Supreme Court justice says sometimes it might be necessary

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said in a new interview that the use of harsh interrogation techniques now widely condemned as torture might not be unconstitutional.

The 78-year-old jurist, part of the court’s conservative wing, said the there’s nothing in the constitution that prohibits harsh treatment of terror suspects.

His remarks came during an interview with a Swiss radio station that aired Thursday, the Associated Press reports. They followed the release of a Senate report the faulted the CIA for lying to the Bush White House and to Congress about the methods and their effectiveness.

MORE: What the torture report reveals about Zero Dark Thirty

Scalia pointed to the oft-cited “ticking time bomb” argument, saying it would be difficult to rule out the use of torture to get information from terror suspects if millions of lives were at stake, and said he doesn’t “think it’s so clear at all” that such tactics should be prohibited in all cases.

[AP]

TIME politics

What Happened When I Spoke Out About the CIA’s Guantanamo Black Site

Detention at Guantanamo grinds on: 13 years and counting, 148 captives remain
A soldier walks by Camp Delta, which no longer holds detainees, on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in this photo approved for release by the U.S. military. Miami Herald—TNS via Getty Images

Joseph Hickman is a senior research fellow at Seton Hall Law Schools Center for Policy and Research.

In 2006, I was a guard on duty at the time of the Guantanamo 'suicides.' What I saw directly contradicted the government’s explanations

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA torture program released Tuesday revealed many disturbing facts. Importantly, it exposed the lengths to which the CIA went to keep their brutal torture program a secret and the lies that they told to other branches of the U.S. government, the media, and the public about what they were doing, how they were doing it, and the intelligence they were getting from it.

This is not the first time the curtain has been pulled back on the CIA’s actions. Americans have spoken out against the torture program before and been punished for it. In the coming months, as the CIA tries to justify the program and paint its actions in rosier colors, it’s important to remember that because of the agency’s lies, men and women who spoke about the torture program were defamed, discredited, and even, in one case, imprisoned.

In a Harper’s Magazine article written by Scott Horton in 2010, I spoke out about three suspicious Guantanamo detainee deaths that were reported as suicides in 2006 by the U.S. government. I was a guard on duty at the time of the deaths and saw things that directly contradicted the government’s explanations. I believe the detainees were tortured and died at a CIA black site located on the base. Government officials and critics said the site was not a CIA facility, that I was lying, and that my story was “nonsense.” Some even called me a traitor and said I was dishonoring the men and woman in uniform. An investigation into the detainees’ deaths was conducted, but no one was ever charged. The results of the investigation only brought up further questions in my mind.

Almost four years after the government tried to discredit me in 2010, an Associated Press article revealed that the very site where I said the detainees died was in fact a CIA black site. Though I felt betrayed by my government and even punished for trying to report a war crime, others that have come forward and reported wrongdoings have experienced far worse than I.

In 2007, retired CIA Agent John Kiriakou became the first to report publicly on ABC News that the CIA was waterboarding detainees. In later interviews he called for national debates on waterboarding and asked Congress to address the issue. Afterwards, the CIA went after Kiriakou. They reported him to the Justice Department for leaking classified information and confirming the identity of one of the interrogators in the CIA torture program to a reporter (though the reporter never published the agent’s name). The Justice Department bought into the CIA’s lies and charged Kiriakou with violating the Espionage Act and the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Out of money and fearful of serving decades behind bars, Kiriakou pled guilty to one count of passing classified information to a reporter and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

The Justice Department stated Tuesday that they will not pursue criminal charges against anyone that was involved in the CIA’s torture program. Ironically, that decision makes Kiriakou the only person serving a prison sentence for the program.

As more is revealed about the torture program and the CIA tries to prove their patriotism, the American people have to ask themselves how much they can trust the CIA and who the real American patriots are. Is it the leaders in the CIA’s torture program and the government officials that lied to the public? Or are the real American patriots people like John Kiriakou, who spoke truth to power and reported injustices?

Joseph Hickman is author of the upcoming book Murder at Camp Delta and senior research fellow at Seton Hall Law Schools Center for Policy and Research.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME intelligence

CIA Director Defends Agency Over Senate Report

"Our nation, and particularly this agency, did a lot of things right during this difficult time," John Brennan said

CIA Director John Brennan defended his agency from a sharply critical Senate report into its post-9/11 detention and interrogations in a rare press conference Thursday.

Speaking from the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va., Brennan called the report “flawed,” chafed at its level of disclosure, and disagreed with the report’s conclusions that the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” were ineffective. Brennan called the efficacy of those tactics, which included waterboarding and sleep-deprivation, “unknowable.”

Brennan opened his public statement with a drawn-out reminiscence of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, calling it the “backdrop” for the use of those tactics. “Whatever your views are on EITs, our nation, and particularly this agency, did a lot of things right during this difficult time,” he said.

Casting the efforts of the agency as a scramble to protect the nation after the deaths of nearly 3,000 fellow citizens, Brennan acknowledged that the CIA was in “uncharted territory” with the interrogation and detention programs, and had made mistakes.

“I look back at the record and I see this was a workforce that was trying to do the right thing,” Brennan said. “I cannot say with certainty that individuals acted with complete honesty.”

The CIA director questioned the Senate panel’s decision not to interview the officers involved in carrying out or overseeing the program to understand their perspective. “I think it’s lamentable that the committee did not avail itself of the opportunity to interact with CIA personnel,” he said.

Under questions from reporters, Brennan openly complained about the contents of the Senate report. “I think there’s been more than enough transparency that has happened over the last couple of days,” Brennan said. “I think it’s over the top.”

Brennan refused to characterize some of the CIA’s activities as “torture,” despite President Obama’s declaration in August that “we tortured some folks.” He would only concede that some officers “exceeded the policy guidance that was given,” adding that they were “abhorrent, and rightly should be repudiated by all.”

Brennan would only concede that the use of coercive techniques had a high likelihood of producing false information.

“We fell short when it came to holding some officers accountable for their mistakes,” Brennan added. The Department of Justice ended criminal probes of the practices in 2012 without charging any of the officers involved.

Weighing into one of the most contentious debates about the utility of program, Brennan said it was a fact that detainees subjected to brutal interrogation techniques provided information that led to the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

“I am not going to attribute that to the use of the EITs,” Brennan said. “I am just going to state as a matter of fact the information they provided was used.”

Saying the detention and interrogation program ended seven years ago, “my fervent hope is that we can put aside this debate and move forward.”

TIME National Security

Guantanamo Bay Detainee Details ‘Sadistic’ Abuse

Guantanamo Bay Facility Continues To Serve As Detention Center For War Detainees
A Public Affairs Officer escorts media through the currently closed Camp X-Ray which was the first detention facility to hold 'enemy combatants' at the U.S. Naval Station on June 27, 2013 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

Deprived of sleep, drugged, and forced to watch pornographic footage or videos of other prisoners being abused

A man detained in Guantanamo Bay for nearly 13 years has said he was subjected to “dirty and sadistic” abuse at the prison, days after a Senate report revealed the extent of the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation tactics.

In a first-person account for the human rights organization Reprieve and published on CNN, Samir Naji from Yemen says he was deprived of sleep, drugged, and forced to watch pornographic footage or videos of other prisoners being abused.

Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of being a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, was cleared for release in 2009 but remains in detention along with 135 other inmates.

“The dirty and sadistic methods I endured — which were then taken directly to Abu Ghraib — achieved nothing, except to shame that American flag hanging in the prison corridor,” he says in the account. “America cannot keep hiding from its past, and its present, like this. Our stories, and our continued detention, cannot be made to disappear.”

Read more at CNN

TIME Afghanistan

U.S. Closes Bagram Prison in Afghanistan

Afghan National Army soldiers stand guard at the Bagram prison gate, Feb. 13, 2014.
Afghan National Army soldiers stand guard at the Bagram prison gate, Feb. 13, 2014. Shah Marai—AFP/Getty Images

At its busiest, Bagram prison held hundreds of detainees

The Department of Defense said Thursday that it had shuttered the last American detention facility in Afghanistan, bringing to an end a controversial practice of holding prisoners in the country without trial.

The U.S. said it no longer had custody of detainees in Afghanistan following the transfer on Wednesday of remaining detainees from Bagram Airfield north of Kabul, which once held hundreds of detainees, Reuters reports. In recent weeks, detainees have been shifted out of U.S. custody, including a top Pakistani Taliban member who was handed over to Pakistan and a Tunisian detainee, Redha al Najar, who was placed in Afghan custody on Tuesday.

The Defense Department said the closure had been planned and was not linked to the Congressional report on the CIA’s interrogation tactics. But Bagram has faced criticism for the treatment of its detainees, including two inmates who a U.S. court said were beaten to death in 2002. One detainee who was detained in 2004 at age 16 and held for five years, Pakistan citizen Kamil Shah, told Reuters he was beaten by U.S. personnel and held in isolation for 11 months.

Najar, the transferred Tunisian detainee who was detained in 2002 as a suspected bodyguard to Osama bin Laden, was identified in the Congressional report, which said he had been one of the first to be subjected to the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques at a prison outside Kabul. He has never been charged.

The U.S. and NATO ceremoniously ended their combat command in Afghanistan on Monday, though some 13,000 troops will remain in the country after the new year.

[Reuters]

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TIME intelligence

Dick Cheney Says Senate Torture Report Is ‘Full of Crap’

“It's a terrible piece of work”

In an interview that aired on Fox News Wednesday, former Vice President Dick Cheney called the recently released report on the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11 a “terrible piece of work.”

“It’s a classic example of what you see too often in Washington where a group of politicians get together and sort of throw the professionals under the bus,” Cheney said.

He called the report, which found that the CIA misled the White House and used practices that could be classified as torture on detainees, “deeply flawed,” noting that the Senate Democrats that wrote the report did not interview any key subjects.

“We did exactly what needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty on 9/11 and prevent a further attack,” Cheney said. “We were successful on both parts.”

He added, when the anchor pressed him on the fact that the report found otherwise, “The report is full of crap, excuse me.”

[Fox News]

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