Many popular movies, television series, and even animated films depict torture as an effective means of gaining information from suspected criminals and terrorists. Yet, torture, and cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees violates international treaties as well as U.S. law, and many counterterrorism experts have questioned its efficacy relative to other means of gathering information. Nonetheless, many Americans—having seen torture work on the screens—continue to believe it its usefulness. Public debate around torture as a tool of counterterrorism was heightened by the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with officials in the Bush Administration defending the use of what they termed, ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ against suspected terrorists. While public discussions regarding torture have waned somewhat in recent years, the appropriate means of interrogating suspects continues to be a salient topic in academic and policy debates.
It should not be surprising that the long awaited release in December 2014 of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) Report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation did not bring a conclusive end to the debate over the use of torture or enhanced interrogation techniques by the United States. To be sure, John Brennan, the Director of the CIA, acknowledged that the report correctly identified numerous and significant problems with the CIA’s handling of detainees and interrogations in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Brennan was also emphatic in stating his own belief that “enhanced interrogation techniques are not an appropriate method to obtain intelligence and that their use impairs our ability to continue to play a leadership role in the world.” But Brennan also restated the CIA’s long-held objection to the SSCI report’s “unqualified assertions that the overall detention and interrogation program did not produce unique intelligence that led terrorist plots to be disrupted, terrorists to be captured, or lives to be saved.”