In one of its last acts before Republicans take leadership, the Senate intelligence committee today released another report again acknowledging that yes, the United States tortured people in the war on terror—and no, it didn't really help much. Here's what we know today.

How did we torture people?

Well, there's the waterboarding, which even a machismo-obsessed Oxfordian could see was torture seconds into a grandstanding attempt to endure it. Today's report confirms that even the interrogators saw waterboarding sessions against 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad as "a series of near drownings":

But there's so much more. Here are some practices the Army's interrogation manual (now) expressly prohibits—practices U.S. forces, their hired goons, and their international proxies have all been accused of using since 9/11:

  • Forcing the detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts, or pose in a sexual manner.
  • Placing hoods or sacks over the head of a detainee; using duct tape over the eyes.
  • Applying beatings, electric shock, burns, or other forms of physical pain.
  • "Waterboarding."
  • Using military working dogs.
  • Inducing hypothermia or heat injury.
  • Conducting mock executions.
  • Depriving the detainee of necessary food, water, or medical care.

And more. Detainees under U.S. supervision in places like Guantanamo have turned up dead, with legs battered to the point of liquefaction. This excerpt from today's Senate report is illustrative:

Other detainees have been handed over to sadism-happy global allies and simply disappeared. As security reporter Spencer Ackerman put it for Wired last year: "More Than 50 Countries Helped the CIA Outsource Torture." From today's report:

The tragic truth of the matter is that we don't know the full extent of what awful shit was done to people in the name of American security, and nothwithstanding today's release, we probably never will.

Why did we torture people?

Ostensibly, it was to extract intelligence out of terrorists to prevent future attacks against Americans. In the face of years of evidence disputing this thesis, much of the op-ed and TV pushback from Bush-era architects of the torture policy amounts to: "Nuh-uh." The amount of ink spilled over whether torture is "effective" in the past decade and a half has been breathtaking. (Not as breathtaking as waterboarding, of course.)

The Senate report released today, however, again says torture was ineffective: Every one of 20 major cases cited as successes by torture defenders was overblown or "found to be wrong in fundamental respects." Worse, the report says, the CIA deliberately lied to perpetuate the idea that inflicting pain and distress got shit done:

But lefty security reporter Marcy Wheeler, formerly of The Intercept, points out that U.S. officials have historically cited another justification: "exploitation," an ominous catchall referring to captors' use of prisoners for, well, whatever. Want to know specifics? Too bad. Here's what the definition looks like in a previous Senate torture report:

Perhaps exploitation includes coercing prisoners to work for U.S. interests after their release. Perhaps it includes forced participation in U.S. messaging—or, as Wheeler bluntly puts it, "propaganda."

How can anybody defend this?

First, by denying that it's torture. Remember the "enhanced interrogation techniques" meme? (Early rumors that even today's Senate report would avoid the word "torture" were, in fact, untrue; the word appears 131 times.)

But defining torture down is not good enough for our uniformed service members. The Army now tells its soldiers to not only respect existing laws and regulations, but to use a moral litmus test: "If the proposed approach technique were used by the enemy against one of your fellow soldiers, would you believe the soldier had been abused?"

Of course, many torture defenders argue that these techniques were in fact adapted from practices U.S. service members voluntarily endure when they opt to take SERE training: "survival, evasion, resistance, and escape" schooling. But those schools are meant to instruct pupils on how to endure torture by American enemies, who presumably would stoop to such brutal means. And the researcher who adapted those techniques for interrogation told the New Yorker back in 2005 how much he regretted doing so.

Second, by denying that it's torture when you use it against your allegedly animalistic, inhuman "enemy." This is the gutter-id reasoning of many of our countrymen who voted for the Cheneys and defended the Haydens. Here's a self-identified former county Republican chairman from Georgia who claims to have served in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Third, by pretending some fucking good comes out of it. Proponents have long argued that "enhanced" interrogation of Al Qaeda members Hassan Ghul and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad led to the jihadi courier who led Americans to find and kill Osama bin Laden. Except Ghul spilled about the courier before those techniques were used, and Muhammad offered a bevy of false information to interrogators while under duress.

It didn't help that they'd already been in custody for years and any information they could provide was likely stale by the time the waterboard came out.

Finally, many of torture's defenders are having a meta-argument: that regardless of what was done in the past, no good will come out of releasing this report now. It may inflame those darned angry primitive Mooslins to kill helpless Marines.

Sound familiar? That's because it was used as an argument against releasing photos of prisoner abuses by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib. Weirdly, it also mirrors the Obama administration's stance when it blamed the 2012 Benghazi U.S. consulate attacks on an incendiary anti-Muslim video on YouTube—an argument ridiculed by many of the conservatives who are opposing today's torture-report release.

Will Tuesday's release change anything?

No. For one thing, it's being painted as partisan, which is kind of laughable, since plenty of Democrats join most Republicans in defending the infliction of pain on captives. (A few Republicans and most independents have also come out against torture—"This is not America," Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate intelligence committee, told CNN today.)

For another thing, everybody's really tired of war and wants to move on from what America did and had done to it. And those Americans that are willing to pay much attention are the pro-torture type. Since 2005, torture has steadily gained more popularity among U.S. poll respondents. More than two-thirds said torture was justified in some circumstances earlier this year. Torture, in other words, was more popular than President Obama and Congress combined.

Finally, getting most Americans to care about swarthy captives from foreign countries with a different religion after September 11 is asking a lot. The Bush administration never lost an election by suggesting otherwise.

So what can we do now?

It may seem perverse, but the only way to even extract an acknowledgement of wrongdoing from—or attach a never-ending stigma of guilt to—bloodthirsty man-jackals like Richard Cheney is to pardon them for their role in justifying and encouraging the torture of fellow human beings.

ACLU executive director Anthony Romero takes this tack in a recent New York Times op-ed, arguing that at this point only immunity will enable honesty. By doing nothing now, Romero says, the government is "essentially granting tacit pardons for torture." Issuing official pardons for torturers "may be the only way to establish, once and for all, that torture is illegal."

If nothing else, there's something morally powerful about offering forgiveness to the worst disgracers of American values and humane sensibility. Forgiveness is not easy, which is precisely what distinguishes it from the brutality it addresses.