The CIA and/or NSA lying to or even intimidating the US Congress should concern all Americans even if torture of terror suspects may not particularly trouble many. “Empowering the American people” as Senator John McCain emphasized was the most critical objective in the long awaited release of the US Senate’s CIA Torture Report. Even more than the sordid evidence of abuses and torture detailed in the Report, more troubling is the degree to which the US Congress and citizens were deceived as to the torture techniques employed and the efficacy of the operations. The higher priority appears to have been not only to rationalize but even extend the covert “rendition” programs and the so-called “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” (EIT). Skeptics within the Government were silenced and those presumably mandated with oversight were effectively co-opted by acquiescence and/or complicity after the fact in order to salvage institutional narratives and reputation.
Disinformation, Lies & Videotapes!
Probably the most damning assessment came at the conclusion of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s, Chair of the Intelligence Committee, statement to the US Senate making public the Report after months, perhaps years of delay: “CIA does not want this Report coming out.” That is a disturbing statement on several levels but most critically because the Senate Intelligence Committee is one of the few bodies that is mandated to oversee on behalf of US citizens the secret activities by US security agencies.
Beyond the “conflicts of interest” and “avoidance of responsibility,” Senators Feinstein and McCain charged that the CIA employed “disinformation” at the highest level and with respect to the highest presumed authorities in the US system of governance. Senator Feinstein specifically cited a confidential but legally required briefing to the Senate Intelligence Committee by then CIA Chief John McLaughlin who assured the Senators in 2004 that: “Nothing like what was at Abu Ghraib” was being done by the CIA. In fact, the Report reveals as much or worse. In a reference to then Secretary of State, one secret communique also rationalized not fully briefing the other members of US Executive nor the US Congress by noting that “(Colin) Powell would blow his stack” if informed of the actions.
Rogue Operation Overseeing Itself?
Senator Feinstein cited not only financially juicy deals but persons of questionable credentials and character in not only managing but effectively establishing themselves as the sole oversight. Persons with “personal, professional & ethical problems” as well as a “history of violence” ran the CIA’s programs. Even those within the CIA including field officers most directly impacted by the program and its presumed valuable intelligence according to Senator Feinstein were “marginalized” and their concerns not reported beyond the walls of the Agency. Even the CIA’s own highest internal oversight officer, the Inspector General, was sidestepped in the review and the reports passed on to other presumably higher authorities in the US Government. The Senator noted that “Inaccurate memorandum were sent to the DOJ (US Department of Justice)”, further “what was described on paper did not match what was done in the blacksites” and in one particularly egregious action by CIA officials, video evidence of the EITs was destroyed before it could be called upon by either the US Congress or DOJ – a CIA official was alleged to have “lied” about the existence of such videos. Again, while the content of the videos as well as other evidence may have informed the US Congress, and by extension Americans, of the brutality and efficacy of the “program” what is most shocking is the brazen manner in which oversight was avoided, even undermined, including reviews by the DOJ and the lack of any action to sanction such obstruction of the law as well as the Senate’s own reviews.
Would McCain Presidency have been more Transparent & Demanding of Accountability?
The US Executive both under Presidents Obama as well as Bush appears to have been reluctant to demand accountability and/or pursue prosecutions for the legally sanctionable misdeeds. In fact as the CIA brass, the Obama Administration sought to keep the Report silent along with former Bush and CIA officials as well as some GOP Congress members. This contrasts to Republican Senator McCain (former Presidential Candidate and victim of torture in a Hanoi prison.) One has to wonder if the US would have been more forthcoming in closing Gitmo and/or cutting off questionable covert programs and abuses if McCain had been elected over Obama in 2008. Senator McCain spoke in pragmatic as well as ideological terms when he assured that the US “need not risk our national honor to prevail in this or any other war.” Perhaps though, this is a systemic problem pervasive through any Democratic or Republican Presidency, a virus deep within the software and hardware of a US system in which institutions first seek to rationalize their actions/inaction to self-preserve or expand, and particularly those who leverage their presumed value to US security against their critics?
Infecting Democracies with the Tactics of Rogue Regimes?
Established and newly aspiring democracies from Poland to Albania just liberated from authoritarian communism were drafted into the CIA’s EIT program as well as some of the globe’s most abusive dictatorial regimes. (See: “The Report on CIA Torture Confirms Our Worst Fears”) Bosnia & Herzegovina though stands out as a state both most vulnerable in its transition and in need of confirming the rule of law as part of the underpinnings of government. According to persons directly involved and as relayed to me, the presumed effort to capture war criminals as Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic was in fact co-opted into the rendition and EIT programs soon after 9/11. Little effort was given to the stated mission of arresting the war criminals and the rule of law remained subservient to alternative agendas including nationalist rationalization for genocides and other war crimes committed in BiH. Those hiding war criminals, perhaps some themselves suspected of war crimes, became corroborators in the presumed war on terror. US leadership was undermined at a critical time when it was most needed by BiH citizens seeking out positive examples of democracy and governance at work. (See: “Construction According to Putin’s Model, from Bosnia to Europe?”)
A Personal Jihad?
Some have accused Senator Feinstein of waging a personal war in pressing for the release of the Report. Perhaps, as the interaction between the CIA and Senator’s staff became contentious. The Senator’s staff was even threatened by the charge of revealing national secrets, and in turn the Senator became offended, thankfully, more determined. Otherwise, would American citizens as well as accountability be empowered?
Senator McCain praised the “perseverance in the face of persistent obstacles” the work of the Senate Committee and its staff(s). Senator Feinstein noted the long history of the decade plus effort to deliver the Report, and in my view for some semblance of oversight and accountability to be finally realized. Those who sought to silence the Report countered with arguments of the success of the CIA’s efforts and understated the abusive tactics. They warned of dangers to national security if the Report were released.
Greatest Threat to America, System of Governance & Freedom from Within:
Regardless of efficacy, legality of the renditions and EIT under domestic and international law, the greatest threat to the US has been the lack of accountability, even arrogance of those who had assumed and/or usurped broad powers, including to be accountable to no one except some self-serving notion of patriotism. As Senator McCain noted, America is best when it acts in manner consistent with our democratic values: “we are better than those who would destroy us.”
It is fair though to ask, what would have occurred if one Republican and one Democratic Senator had not acted with personal conviction to get the Report out? The Bush III and Obama Administrations appear most inclined to seek silence and shovels to bury the past practices, legal or not, consistent with US Governance or not. The DOJ has prosecuted no one for some of the gravest violations of domestic and international law and most critically obstruction. (See: “UN Expert Calls for Prosecution of CIA, US Officials for Crimes Committed During Interrogations”)
On the other hand, whether WikiLeaks or Snowden, or whistle-blowers as Thomas Drake, there is a full court to prosecute and silence. (See: “Gang Rape of Free Media in Our Western Democracies?”)
It appears that even the Rule of Law has been applied, most selectively, and particularly in favor of institutional infallibility. Next time, and almost undoubtedly there will be, will we have more resolute Administrations or two more Senators from each party courageous and committed, or will America need a fictional character of super means, will and luck as from the “Bourne Legacy” to heroically expose such threat from within the system? Apologists will also fall back on draping themselves in the flag, or more accurately camouflaging. “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” is a most worthy reminder in reviewing the debates regarding the Report’s publication. It is a free media and citizens demanding transparency that defend the country and values that some others may be more exploiting for adornment or worse.
Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey
Any brutality as well as war can be justified with the cry that “God is on our side.” That is also now the recruiting tool and justification for all that ISIS has done and before them Al-Qaeda. It cannot be the rationalization for what America does. One of my favorite songs persists in its relevance, from Bob Dylan to The Neville Brothers and here, Joan Baez:
PHOTO: Senator John McCain, POW/businessinsider.com