By Lawrence J. Haas
Though they preside over the world's most important nation, our leaders in Washington can be startlingly oblivious to audiences beyond our shores.
That's the only rational explanation for why - 13 years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 - Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats issued a graphic, self-flagellating report about the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" methods in the frightening months after that fateful day.
With its provocative detail splashed across TV screens, front pages, and websites, the report will undoubtedly endanger American lives by giving terrorists one more rallying cry to attack U.S. interests, strengthening terrorist recruiting efforts and forcing other governments and intelligence services to keep their distance from Uncle Sam.
To be clear, the report was revealing only in its raw detail of CIA activities, not in the broad subject matter. In fact, when news surfaced years ago that the CIA deprived suspects of sleep, chained them to walls, threatened them with death, and so on, government officials, opinion leaders, and the broad public began a serious and cathartic national debate over whether the United States should ever torture.
We even reached a general consensus that we should avoid anything that smacks of torture and consider employing it only in the most extreme cases - such as when the United States faces the imminent threat of a catastrophic attack that could kill hundreds, if not thousands, of people.
That's all fine after the fact, but as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) acknowledged in her foreword to the report, the days after Sept. 11, 2001, were not ones in which our government and intelligence services could take a leisurely approach to national security. They were days of overwhelming fear that much greater attacks were coming.
In fact, Feinstein noted that after Sept. 11, the CIA "was encouraged by political leaders and the public to do whatever it could to prevent another attack" and that, as a general matter, the "Intelligence Committee as well often pushes intelligence agencies to act quickly in response to threats and world events."
That is not different from how our nation's leaders have behaved at other perilous times, such as when Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War. What later seems heinous often seems vital at the time.
Feinstein says she hopes the report will serve as a preemptive measure to ensure that, even when facing security perils, the United States never again abandons its values. Indeed, she and her Democratic colleagues were so determined to render their judgments against the CIA's methods that they never even interviewed the officials whose activities they judged so harshly.
Now the terrorists of al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other groups who plot to attack America and its global interests will have one more recruiting tool. That means more terrorists with more motivation to plot and launch more attacks against more Americans.
Now governments and intelligence agencies, whether in Europe, the Middle East, or elsewhere, will hesitate before aligning themselves too closely with the United States.
That means less intelligence from around the world will flow to Washington, leaving us more vulnerable to plots that our intelligence services lack the information to prevent.
America debated torture and rendered its judgment long ago. Rather than advance that debate, the committee's report makes American deaths more likely.