Senate Report Exposes Torture and Misrepresentations By CIA Officials . . . But Recommends No Prosecution

CIAsenate_large_sealWe previously discussed how CIA officials were accused of trying to intimidate Senate staffers working on an investigation into allegations of torture and lies by the agency officials. Now the details of that still classified report have been leaked to the media. For the Senate Intelligence Committee (long accused of being a rubber stamp for intelligence agencies), the report is quite damning. The Senate found a pattern of misinformation knowingly released by the CIA to convince the public that its torture program yielded valuable intelligence — and new forms of torture that have never been previously confirmed. What is most striking however is what is not in the report: a recommendation for criminal prosecution. Indeed, consistent with its past approach to intelligence abuses, the Committee does not recommend any action be taken against a single CIA official.

The investigation reportedly details how the CIA knowingly and methodically misled the government and the public about intelligence derived from torture. This was part of a concerted effort by CIA officials and Bush officials to claim that the killing of Osama Bin Laden and other intelligence victories only occurred due to the use of torture. Indeed, the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” was a disturbing revisionist film that directly linked torture derived information with the killing of Bin Laden despite an absence of any support for such a claim. The very persons who could have been prosecuted for the torture program have given countless interviews assuring the public that the torture was beneficial. Putting aside the question of why benefits from a torture program would accuse the crime, this report further confirms that these claims were untrue.

Notably, the report details how the CIA ordered the torture of cooperating captives and overruled officials who denounced the torture as immoral and ineffective. In one case, even CIA employees walked out of a torture session in Thailand in protest of the disgusting measures used by their government. These include new torture methods like the repeated dunking of a terrorism suspect in tanks of ice water at a detention site in Afghanistan while being beaten by a club and having his head slammed against the tank. The FBI repeatedly objected to the torture as unlawful and ineffectual. Indeed, former FBI agent Ali Soufan interrogated Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, the suspected al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Zubaida, after his capture in Pakistan in 2002. He said that Soufan was cooperating, gave valuable information, but the CIA insisted on torturing him anyway. The CIA later mixed the pre-torture evidence with the minor torture-derived evidence to suggest that torture was the reason for the intelligence.

The CIA is also accused of misrepresenting the value of prisoners to allow for torture when the prisoners were really minor captives. Thus, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was identified as the “mastermind” the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen when he was a minor captive.

220px-ZeroDarkThirty2012PosterIn direct contradiction to the film, the report also conclusively states that torture did not produce the information that led to the location of Osama Bin Laden. Instead, the detainee had already volunteered the information before his torture. The torture produced nothing of value. Yet, for many years to come, movie viewers will watch this film and conclude that torture paid off for the United States. That is truly a dark legacy for director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter by Mark Boal, who were celebrated by Hollywood at the time of the movie.

Former CIA interrogator named Charlie Wise is identified (as he has before) of being one of those responsible for the most egregious forms of torture. He was forced to retire in 2003. However, he was never prosecuted under our binding obligations under treaties. The penalty for torturing people was early retirement – not exactly what is called for under our treaties and international law. Wise later died of a heart attack. His protection from prosecution can be traced directly to President Obama. Since Obama ran on a civil liberties platform, many expected an independent torture investigation as soon as he took office. After all, waterboarding is one of the oldest forms of torture, pre-dating the Spanish Inquisition (when it was called tortura del agua). It has long been defined as torture by both U.S. and international law, and by Obama himself. Torture, in turn, has long been defined as a war crime, and the United States is under treaty obligation to investigate and prosecute such crimes.

However, such a principle did not make for good politics. Accordingly, as soon as he was elected, Obama set out to dampen talk of prosecution. Various intelligence officials and politicians went public with accounts of the Obama administration making promises to protect Bush officials and CIA employees from prosecution.

Though the White House denied the stories, Obama later gave his controversial speech at the CIA headquarters and did precisely that. In the speech, he effectively embraced the defense of befehl ist befehl (“an order is an order”) and, in so doing, eviscerated one of the most important of the Nuremburg principles. Obama assured the CIA that employees would not be prosecuted for carrying out orders by superiors. This was later affirmed by Holder’s Justice Department, which decided that employees carrying out torture were protected because they followed orders.

Even this Senate report continues that policy in not demanding the prosecution of officials who carried out this torture program and then lied to the public and Congress. Previously, the Justice Department even refused to prosecute CIA officials who admitted to destroying tapes of torture to avoid their use against them in any criminal prosecution.

As surprising as it is for the Senate Intelligence Committee to reach any negative findings against the intelligence agencies under Chairperson Dianne Feinstein, it is the absence of the recommendations to how officials accountable that may ultimately send the strongest message to the intelligence ranks. The report suggests that even the commission of acts considered war crimes will not result in prosecution in the United States. It is further evidence of the corruption of our moral and legal values after 9-11. It has destroyed the credibility of this country in discussing human rights violations in other countries and contributed to various studies now identifying the United States as a menace rather than an advocate of civil liberties.

Source: Washington Post

61 thoughts on “Senate Report Exposes Torture and Misrepresentations By CIA Officials . . . But Recommends No Prosecution”

  1. We debated the issue of torture ad nauseam four years ago (at least) on this blog. Waterboarding is torture under domestic and international law. There are even state law prosecutions for it. Anyone at this point who still insists that it is a legitimate tool is either a liar or a fool. The issue is not debatable.

    The Bush/Cheney administration adopted torture and secured legal cover from lawyers who have been rewarded for their cowardice with, among other things, the highest judicial office in the country. The Congress, including those who now stand in condemnation, vigorously supported anything the administration chose to do. I voted for Barack Obama under the belief that he would restore the rule of law. He did not. Instead he ratified war crimes by meekly referring to them as inconsistent with “our values” and insisting that the nation needed to look forward, as though the American people are incapable of looking truth in the face.

    Now the proverbial chickens are coming home to the proverbial roost. How the population reacts will tell us whether Pres. Obama’s perception is accurate.

  2. The reason is quite simple. Feinstein righteously wants to take torture off the table. She knows public opinion is OK w/ torture. So, in order for torture to not even be considered again, Feinstein wants MORE than the moral reason, she wants the practical reason, that being it doesn’t work. So, even if it does work, it’s vital to make sure people think it doesn’t. Because when we are attacked again an even higher % of people will approve torture. That’s why Feinstein used her office to attack the movie, Zero Dark Thirty, it showed torture being productive, which is what Panetta has stated.

  3. Why do you talk about whether the torture program produced good intelligence? Torture is immoral no matter how good intelligence it produces.

  4. SWM, Greenwald and Wheeler are indeed heroes. The ONLY place I see both of them interviewed is on Jake Tapper’s show. They may be given air time elsewhere, but that’s the only place I’ve seen them. Feinstein’s effort to not give bloggers 1st Amendment rights was shot down by the 9th Circuit this week.

  5. nick, I don’t think Feinstein is a hero but as Marcy Wheeler who writes for Glenn Grenwald’s site said she did not have to push it especially when faced with republican opposition. If anyone is the hero it might be Snowden.

  6. Swarthmoremom, good news, but the CIA gets it first to redact information, oy.

  7. emptywheel ‏@emptywheel 2m

    I criticize DiFi a lot. But this report would not have happened without her persistence. tweet from Marcy Wheeler

  8. Brooklin, thanks for your perspective. Your response was the type I was expecting but was curious since wasn’t around until the eighties. I am very concerned with the state of our political system. As one of my old professors told me years ago, the system works but only if you participate. It scares me how many people (my definition doesn’t include corporations) don’t, for whatever reason.

  9. Juris, Torture was a highly charged subject in the 60’s with the ideologies of both parties, all branches of government and 99% of society solidly against, at least publicly. The second world war ended only 15 years before the 60’s started and torture was infamous both in Germany where it was horrific and sick and Japan where it was much the same.

    The 1957 movie, Bridge Over The River Kwai, in which torture by the Japanese is a constant presence in the film as the most distinguishing characteristic between “us” and “them”, sums up what might well be a sort of “distilled” public attitude toward torture back then: It was considered barbaric; totally anti American, totally anti British, and if you ignored the Vichy government, totally anti French, something used by savage third world countries and by mad men such as Göring and Hanns-Joachim Schraff, with Hitler’s blessing of course. This attitude was passed down to the next generation in very strong doses.

    Had a public scandal broken out about a sitting U.S. president’s use of torture, it would have swiftly cost him his presidency at a minimum and I’m pretty sure the same would have occurred for a cover up à la Obama.

    That was the public image and sentiment. It has come to light, however, that torture was used in Britain against Germans in particular, and occasionally in the US as well.

  10. Jill,

    Well said but the foxes guarding the henhouses need strong incentives and disincentives to reform – it’s very hard to implement! It’s a huge mess really.

  11. Out, damned spot! out, I say!—One: two: why, then, ’tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky!—Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?—Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him? ~ Lady Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1

    Unfortunately for the American people the damned spot of US government sponsored torture is indelible.

  12. I don’t know about you, but I’m still a little in shock from the report someone gave earlier regarding 68,000 criminals released into the environment without cause. What is going on ? Is crime being rewarded ? Is our safety unimportant ?

  13. To the “older” crowd here, I would be curious to hear your thoughts on what you think the reaction would have been from the media and citizenry in general if something like this came out in the sixties?

    I was hoping to read about it in my local paper this morning (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) and couldn’t find any story on it in the entire paper. It’s like the public in general hasn’t even heard the story or if they have, either don’t give a damn or are so numb to stories like this shrug it off. And don’t get me started on the “journalists.”

  14. Have it your way……we aim to please….. I’ve got a ticket to ride…..

  15. The lights have sadly gone out in the shinning city on the hill.

  16. Jamie wrote:
    “Shoplift jeans from Walmart and spend hard time. Recklessly ignore the Constitution by using torture and lying to Congress gets a slap on the wrist”
    You are correct on that. Ordinarily I would say there is a disconnect between what happens on the federal level and the local level as these are two different systems that do not necessarily integrate with one another, but in this respect the practice is often the same.

    I am one of those who can confirm this not just by reading articles in newspapers but in seeing it in actual practice. I have seen misconduct by government officials in the capacity of county prosecutors, law enforcement officers, city council members, a judge, records clerks, a police chief, and a mayor. In all of those cases, all of them criminal matters, they got markedly more deferrence and preferences than the average citizen. It made me sick to tell you the truth. It is not just federal officials but the system in our country gives public officials a different due process than regular people get. And this is coming from me as a former LEO.

    The usual way this happens is when some misconduct revealed itself after previously being swept under the rug. A big six month long “investigation” was done and it seemed in many of those cases every “out” was given the official. Some were offered to simply resign or face jail time. Regular people were not told you can quit your job and we’ll forget about it. Not that I think that was fair, but only public officials were given that option.

    Then, it would get batted around left and right until the attention to these suspects evaporated and the investigation and charges just seemed to go away.

    I don’t want to draw attention to my own actions but I never tolerated that kind of treatment. I had to go to great lengths with the few cases I was involved in just to get the process in motion. And believe me those who do this get a lot of flack for trying.

    When I was field training rookie officers I made a point in discussing with them how to do things when the eventuality of them having to face arresting a prominent official or citizen happened. My advice to new officers was to treat officials no different than anyone else. If you would arrest Joe Average, then arrest Mr. City Councilman. And, if during that time they start with the “I’m on the city council and I’ll see to it you lose your job” threat charge them with official misconduct and book them.

    I also mention what my experiences have been and what it taught me was that if you had probable cause to arrest a public official for a crime, don’t just send a report to your supervisor or let the person go for an investigation, put them in jail. The reason for this is once they are arrested, especially for a felony, they have to go before a judge immediately and there is no tip toeing around trying to make the issue go away.

    I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, and I recognize it does. I had a rewarding career as a LEO but there are some things I witnessed, such as this, that have left me a bit jaded.

  17. The lack of accountability and two-tiered system of justice in this country is truly disgusting. To paraphrase the Firesign Theater, you know you can believe them, because they never lie, and they are always right.

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