The 528 page Senate Intelligence Committee report on C.I.A. torture may come as a shock to many, but would not have surprised the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY). In 1991 and again in 1995, fed up with his dealings with this agency, he introduced a bill for its abolition. Too much secrecy that amounted to a blanket institutionalized cover-up, too much bad or inadequate information leading to blunders, tragedies and failures to anticipate events like the collapse of the Soviet Union. Moynihan believed that secret government breeds disaster and shreds democratic societies.
Despite the bill not being put to a vote, Senator Moynihan’s criticisms proved justified after 9/11 when the C.I.A. became more imperial, more secretive, more violently operational and more of a “government within a government”—a phrase used by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) during the Iran/Contra scandal under President Reagan.
Outwardly, the C.I.A. claims its “enhanced interrogation methods” (aka torture) have blocked plots and saved lives. Asked to document these claims, the agency automatically hides behind its secret curtain. When a federal agency claims what it is doing is legal and constitutional, it better back this up beyond general assertions of secret legal memos from the Justice Department and knowledge and approval from the war criminals (e.g. invasion of Iraq) President George W. Bush and the generic prevaricator, Vice President Dick Cheney.
The C.I.A.’s bureaucratic environment assured this kind of searing and specific criticism. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, delivered by its chairperson, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) after a five year investigation revealed torture, cover-ups, lying and a failure to achieve its objectives.
With a very ample, multi-billion dollar, secret budget, near zero independent Congressional oversight, and the omnipresent sheen of protecting “national security”, the C.I.A. can never answer the old Latin question, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” or, “who will guard the guards themselves?” No rule of law or externally independent monitoring can contain this rogue agency driven by internal conviction and righteousness.
During the Bush years, the C.I.A.’s unbridled forays were commonly marked by dictatorial secret wars, secret prisons, secret courts, secret evidence, secret law, and dragnet illegal surveillance.
In addition, there were no criminal or civil prosecutions of any culpable bureaucrats either by the Bush or Obama administrations—with one exception. The only person prosecuted, under Obama no less, was the truly patriotic John Kiriakou—a well-regarded C.I.A. interrogation specialist who accurately blew the whistle on illegal C.I.A. torture. He is serving a 30 month jail term—having copped a plea on a minor, questionable charge to spare his wife and five children from an even longer, financially breaking ordeal defending himself from vengeful prosecutors with endless budgets.
To prevent the Senate Intelligence Committee from finally redeeming its history of passivity and complicity exhibited by its “look the other way” tradition, the C.I.A. tried to obstruct the Committee staff in numerous ways. They blocked the staff from proper access to documents, leaked false information to the press, hacked into the Committee’s computers, and even urged the Justice Department to criminally prosecute the Senate’s valiant investigators. When all that failed, the C.I.A. delayed and delayed the issuance of the report, while it pored over its contents and secured so many redactions that readers would wonder what else they could possibly be hiding. (See for yourself: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/12/09/world/cia-torture-report-document.html.)
Well, how about 6,000 more pages of the Committee’s work product, kept secret by C.I.A.’s demands, describing in stomach-wrenching detail the various forms of torture and their uselessness, especially compared to other friendlier methods, described by former C.I.A. interrogators such as Ali Soufan.
All of this “spook business” creates a tightknit brotherhood of self-reinforcing admiration that belies or suppresses significant dissent inside spy agencies. Indeed, as the New York Times just reported, “[i]n January 2003, 10 months into the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret prison program, the agency’s chief of interrogations sent an email to colleagues saying that the relentlessly brutal treatment of prisoners was a train wreck ‘waiting to happen and I intend to get the hell off the train before it happens.’ He said he had told his bosses he had “serious reservations” about the program and no longer wanted to be associated with it ‘in any way.’”
No wonder one of the Times headlines summed up the Intelligence Committee’s work with these words: “Senate Report Depicts Broken Agency That Was Wedded to Failed Approach.”
So broken, that the C.I.A. contracted out torture to two psychologists who promptly formed a company that received $81 million in taxpayer money. To add to what one C.I.A. official quoted in the report called “useless intelligence.”
The bigger story in this sordid mess is that there will be no prosecution against the top government officials responsible, starting with Bush and Cheney. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) framed this accountability issue on the Senate floor: “Director [John] Brennan and the CIA today are continuing to willfully provide inaccurate information and misrepresent the efficacy of torture. In other words the C.I.A. is lying.” He urged the president to purge the agency leadership, including Mr. Brennan. “There can be no cover-up. If there is no moral leadership from the White House helping the public understand that the C.I.A.’s torture program wasn’t necessary and didn’t save lives or disrupt terrorist plots, then what’s to stop the next White House and C.I.A. director from supporting torture?”, he concluded.
The response from the White House was President Obama expressing “complete confidence” in C.I.A. Director John Brennan, and Mr. Brennan calling all his subordinates “patriots.” The circle has closed once again.
An even larger consequence from the increasing disclosures of how Bush/Cheney and Obama have responded in their “War on Terror” comes from the millions of innocent children, women and men who were killed, injured or sickened, millions more refugees in Iraq and Afghanistan, the loss of American life and limb, and the trillions of dollars in public funds that could have been used to rebuild America’s crucial infrastructure to save lives and provide needed facilities and jobs.
The criminal gang that struck on 9/11 had no second strike capability. Bush’s gigantic over-reaction, blowing apart whole countries and societies year after year, has only enormously spread the Al-Qaeda forces into a dozen countries through affiliates and offshoots such as ISIS.
Fighting stateless terrorism with massive state terrorism and torture that strengthens the former creates a deadly boomerang. It destroys our priorities, mutes the waging of peace and corrodes our democracy with its purported rule of law. It also obscures the history of the West intervening violently in the East’s backyard for a century, carving up its colonies, backing local, brutal dictatorships with U.S. arms, money and diplomatic cover.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s first step should arouse Congress to its constitutional duties and stop the destruction of the separation of powers by an overweening White House executive. Certainly the Left-Right in the Congress should agree on that principle. It helps if we the people, who pay the price, give them constant nudges in that direction.