The report by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding CIA interrogation essentially accuses the agency under George W. Bush of war criminality. Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein appears to offer some extenuation when she reminds us in the report’s preamble of the shock and “pervasive fear” felt after 9/11.

It’s a common theme (often echoed by President Obama): Amid panic and disorientation, we lost our moral compass and made awful judgments. The results are documented in the committee report. They must never happen again.

It states a kind of temporary-insanity defense for the Bush administration. And it is not just unctuous condescension but hypocritical nonsense. In the aftermath of 9/11, there was nothing irrational about fearing a second attack, and therefore everything should be done to prevent it. This was the opinion of the CIA, the administration, congressional leadership and the American people.

Al-Qaida had mounted four major attacks on American targets in the previous three years and was known to be seeking weapons of mass destruction. The nation also suffered an anthrax attack of unknown origin.

We were so blindsided that we established a 9/11 commission to find out why. And we knew next to nothing about the enemy: its methods, structure, plans. There was nothing morally deranged about deciding to do everything necessary to prevent a repetition. As Feinstein said at the time, “We have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.”

Nancy Pelosi, then ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, was briefed about the interrogation program, including the so-called torture techniques. As were the other intelligence committee leaders. “We understood what the CIA was doing,” wrote Porter Goss, Pelosi’s chairman on the House committee. Democrat Jay Rockefeller, while the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was asked in 2003 about turning over Khalid Sheik Mohammed to countries known to torture. He replied: “I wouldn’t take anything off the table where he is concerned.”

There was no uproar about this open countenancing of torture-by-proxy. Which demonstrates not just the shamelessness of Democrats today denouncing practices to which they made no objection. It demonstrates also how near-consensual was the idea that our national emergency might require extraordinary measures.

This is not to say that in carrying out the program there weren’t abuses, mismanagement and appalling mistakes. It is to say that the root-and-branch denunciation of the program as unconscionable is not just hypocritical but ahistorical.

To produce a prosecutorial brief so entirely and relentlessly one-sided, the committee report (written solely by Democrats) excluded any testimony from the people involved and variously accused.

The excuse offered by the committee is that a parallel Justice Department inquiry precluded committee interviews. Rubbish. That inquiry ended in 2012. Why didn’t they take testimony in the interval since? Moreover, even during the Justice Department investigation, the three CIA directors and many other officials were exempt from any restrictions. Why weren’t they interviewed?

Answer: So that committee Democrats could make their indictment without contradiction. So they could declare, for example, the whole program yielded no important information – a conclusion denied by practically every major figure involved, including Democrat and former CIA Director Leon Panetta and Obama’s current CIA director, John Brennan.

Perhaps, say the critics, but we’ll never know whether less harsh interrogation would have sufficed.

So what was the Bush administration to do? Amid the smoking ruins of ground zero, conduct a controlled experiment in gentle interrogation and wait to see if we’d be hit again?

A nation attacked is not a laboratory for moral experiments. It’s a trust to be protected, by whatever means meet and fit the threat.

Accordingly, under the direction of the Bush administration and with the acquiescence of congressional leadership, the CIA conducted an uncontrolled experiment. It did everything it could, sometimes clumsily, sometimes wrongly.

But successfully. They kept us safe.

Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for The Washington Post. He can be contacted at:

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