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article imageOp-Ed: The CIA needs to win hearts and minds as well as gather intel

By Calvin Wolf     Aug 12, 2014 in Politics
When you fight the monster, you risk becoming the monster. The CIA has a tremendously difficult task in confronting and fighting violent terrorists in hostile territories, but engaging in torture raises the risk of retaliatory terrorism.
The Central Intelligence Agency has tried to protect America and its interests since its founding shortly after the second World War, initially undermining communist regimes and infiltrating hostile nations. Today, with the Cold War long over, the CIA focuses primarily on combating terrorism. The stakes are hardly less high: Though nuclear Armageddon may no longer be a nightly concern for the White House, there is an increased risk of traditional bombings and acts of sabotage from terrorists.
And with terrorists, there are no Kremlin hotlines or diplomatic protocols. Terrorists, particularly suicide bombers and lone wolf extremists, do not worry about mutually-assured destruction. They do not fight in uniforms. As non-statesmen, they care little about the protection of any one state or its civilian residents. To us, most terrorists are irrational.
Is it really surprising that our intelligence agencies and military would resort to extreme means to glean information from captured, irrational terrorists? Honestly, it is something many people probably suspected for some time, going all the way back to the 1950s. After all, did the KGB roll out the room service for detainees? Did Mao's Revolutionary Guards roll out the red carpet for suspects? The North Vietnamese certainly did not run an actual Hilton in Hanoi for captured U.S. airmen.
But we are the good guys, which is what makes the official confirmation that the CIA engaged in torture so painful. According to Yahoo! News, a U.S. Senate report on CIA torture will soon be released, and some in the intelligence community are worried that the document could spark anti-American violence in the Middle East. Details of "enhanced interrogation" measures used by the CIA and associated contractors may incense many, with an intelligence official agreeing that the aftermath of the report will be "ugly."
The CIA needs to clean up its act and remain one of the good guys. Though it is tempting to fight violence with violence and torture with torture, especially since the bad guys don't follow any rules, it prevents many neutral individuals from deciding to help the CIA. Furthermore, it often does not work: According to Mark A. Costanzo and Ellen Gerrity, torture is ineffective at gleaning reliable information. As far back as the third century it was reported that victims of torture would tell any lie they thought was either expected of them or would end the torture fastest.
With false intelligence from operatives like "Curveball" helping lead the U.S. down the misguided path to invading Iraq in 2003, the CIA should have been more wary of incorrect intelligence, including intelligence gleaned from torture.
We need to commit ourselves to abiding by accepted rules of interrogation and imprisonment. Though we should not coddle prisoners, neither should we abuse them. Prisoners who are treated well may be more likely to tell us what we want to know, and their compatriots will be more likely to surrender without a fight if they know that the U.S. will not abuse them in custody. An enemy should always be given more incentive to lay down arms than fight to the death.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Central intelligence agency, Espionage, Torture, cia torture, War on Terror
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