A phrase that is usually used to apologize for egregious behavior is nevertheless appropriate: Mistakes were made in enhanced interrogation.

We do not, and cannot, make light of the damaging disclosures about the scope of the harsh techniques — literally torture, for some of the targets held by the Central Intelligence Agency. Although the Senate report on the program was conducted by the ruling Democrats in the chamber, and what is public is an executive summary of a 6,000-page classified report, the evidence in it is compelling if not, in many cases, revolting reading.

Among the revelations is the general confirmation that the brutality meted out to detainees appears to have had, at best, very limited usefulness. This has been true throughout history, because most prisoners will say anything to avoid this kind of abuse. U.S. Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, has always made that point from personal experience in North Vietnam. His voice is an essential moral compass for the nation today.

The report tends to confirm two conclusions that are contradictory: One is that the techniques employed, for the most part, were approved by higher officials and by administration lawyers — and thus legally employed. But the second conclusion is that how brutality was meted out was not really under control and, in the chaotic days after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the CIA did not handle its authority particularly well.

There are numerous instances of the “cowboy” mentality of agents clashing with the views of other officials or even other agents involved. The harshness of the treatment was unevenly applied and probably never assessed by a responsible official who was in a position to wonder if the abusive treatments were getting us anywhere.

The CIA spent millions of dollars in payments, essentially bribes, to foreign governments allowing secret prisons for detainees.

The CIA is accused in the report of misleading its superiors and Congress. We agree with Richard Burr, of North Carolina, incoming Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, that honest communication is essential if there is to be effective oversight of the intelligence agencies.

If history is to record this episode fairly, it should be in the light of good intentions in what seemed to most of us a desperate situation, involving detainees who were largely, if not in every case, active enemies of this country and all that it stands for.