The views expressed are those of the author.
Three years ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the summary of its torture report, replete with shocking details about the way the CIA once waged the war on terror. Yet it was only part of the story. Of the full 6,000-page report, only 525 pages were released to the public, and those were heavily redacted.
Today, there is much we still don’t know about the George W. Bush administration’s fateful decision to use torture as a weapon of war, including how the agencies applying the policy interacted with one another. But a new book could offer some insight—if the Trump administration ever permits it to be released.
The book, Unjustifiable Means, is a forthcoming memoir by Mark Fallon, a former official for the Defense Department and Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Fallon retired in 2010 after a distinguished 31-year career—much of it on the front lines in the fight against Al-Qaeda. Before 9/11, Fallon worked with the task force that investigated the first World Trade Center attack and was the leader of the NCIS team that probed the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. After 9/11, he was NCIS chief of counterintelligence for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and later served as the deputy commander and chief investigator of the DOD Criminal Investigation Task Force, which gathered evidence to prosecute terrorism suspects by military commissions at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay. Given Fallon’s insider background, his book may be an incredibly important account of the policy failures that damaged our national security by helping boost jihadi recruitment, among other things.
Some worry that the censors may be more concerned about protecting individual reputations than improper disclosures.
Yet the book may never be released—or, if it is, may appear only in a heavily redacted, bowdlerized form. Fallon’s story is currently undergoing a pre-publication security clearance review. Ten agencies, including the Departments of Defense and Justice and the CIA, the three agencies most responsible for the torture fiasco, are combing through it. And some, myself included, worry that the censors may be more concerned about protecting individual reputations than improper disclosures. Fallon was initially promised this process would take no longer than six weeks; it has now dragged on for more than seven months, with no end in sight.
As someone who has closely followed—and participated—in the war on terror, I’m dismayed by the prospect of Fallon’s book being censored. When I was the Navy’s general counsel, Fallon was one of several NCIS officials who came to my office in November 2002 to present me with his concerns. He, along with NCIS Director David Brant and others, had obtained evidence that some Guantánamo detainees were being subjected to unlawful physical abuse during interrogations. If unchecked, they felt, the abuse would rise to the level of torture. Leaving aside whether torture was legal, they also felt that the harsh interrogation techniques being used were inherently counterproductive and demonstrated shocking incompetence. Lastly, they told me, the brutality was rumored to have been authorized “at the highest level” of the Bush administration.
The NCIS team in my office was composed of the types of officials that our nation values most: tough, courageous, capable and experienced people who are eager to combat the enemy and—no less important—faithful to the laws and values that define our country. None of them wanted to condone illegality, incompetence or dishonor, no matter how high the rank of the official ordering otherwise. By refusing to participate in and speaking out against the abuse of enemy captives, Fallon and his NCIS colleagues were defending their integrity and our nation.
Fallon, who believes that it is as important to learn from our mistakes as from our successes, continues to serve our nation. Unjustifiable Means delves into how key officials were able to manipulate governmental processes to adopt counterproductive policies; it recounts the leadership, ethical and moral challenges that he and others faced in telling truth to power and illuminates how torture contributed to the proliferation of the global violent extremism that jeopardizes our national security.
These lessons are critical. The Obama administration commendably banned torture, but it was mistaken in believing that we could erase the temptation to use these harsh measures without meaningful accountability. Now, we are led by a president who is an unabashed torture enthusiast, is appointing architects or apologists of the Bush-era interrogation policies to key government positions, has abandoned U.S. leadership on human rights and treats police brutality as a laughing matter. The slide toward brutishness continues.
Unjustifiable Means can help thwart that slide—if the Trump administration would release it already, in its unredacted form.
Alberto Mora is a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.