December 8, 2014–To judge from the hysteria among intelligence officers who are supposed to pride themselves on calmness in the storm, we are standing at the edge of a precipice–never mind that it is of their own making. Having commented just yesterday on the haste with which former CIA operative Jose Rodriguez put up a pre-emptive defense of agency torturers in the face of the investigative report of the Senate intelligence committee on these CIA programs, we see this morning that Rodriguez, the CIA Counterterrorism Center official who ran the torture program has been joined by others, monopolizing the airwaves of the Sunday talk shows.
Many months ago I named a number of these people and called them “soothsayers.” Here’s Michael V. Hayden back again and you can see why. Yesterday on Face the Nation, Mr. Hayden, a former Air Force general who led the NSA, then the CIA, and finally became a senior assistant to the Director of National Intelligence, thundered that it “beggars the imagination” that CIA lied about a program that wasn’t doing any good. “We’re not here to defend torture,” Hayden added via email. “We’re here to defend history.”
Sounds good doesn’t it? Here’s the thing: In the spring of 2004 the CIA Inspector General (IG) issued an investigative report of his own, one that covered the first two years of the torture program and which included internal CIA review documents that questioned the value of whatever had been obtained using these methods. Hayden took over the CIA in 2006. When the IG continued to nose around uncomfortable agency business Hayden began a counterintelligence investigation–of the Inspector General. In 2008 the Senate Armed Services Committee, after long investigation, also did a report on U.S. government torture. That report questioned the effectiveness of the torture and showed that CIA had been an important mover in importing these methods to the Pentagon. Later an internal, expert review by the Defense Science Board rejected the efficacy of torture methods. And the FBI expert interrogators working alongside the CIA in the black prisons, and also with the military at Guantanamo, withdrew from those tainted programs.
And speaking of defending history, Jose Rodriguez is the official most responsible for the destruction of the CIA videotapes documenting the torture, a presumptive obstruction of justice but certainly a blow against history.
That is the history. Worse, when the Congress passed legislation outlawing torture again (it was already criminal under several statutes), General Hayden pushed to exempt the CIA from the law. As torture was ruled out of bounds by the Bush (2) administration, CIA bid to keep open a contingency authority to use these methods, whose effectiveness seems to have been evident only at Langley.
The facts are that (1) Michael Hayden was a johnny-come-lately, not around to see the effectiveness of the early torture; (2) official reviews found the effectiveness of the technique questionable and its legal basis defective; (3) Mr. Hayden attempted to obstruct further inquiries by the IG on his watch; and (4) he sought to preserve a CIA capability for torture in the face of renewed action to render it illegal.
George J. Tenet and his deputy and one-time acting director, John McLaughlin, have also been mentioned as participants in this pre-emptive effort to cut down the Senate investigation. No doubt they come at this from the perspective of protecting loyal employees but both of them should know better. The torture was controversial at CIA even while it was going on, had the dangerous and so-much-discussed criminal liabilities, and had impacts that at best are debatable. For them to take sides means cutting themselves off from another slice of CIA veterans in what may end up as a mud-slinging contest. Better to stay out of this.
The same goes for former president George W. Bush, who is being dragged into this debate. Bush associates are being quoted as convinced of the loyalty of CIA officers and the president himself as having felt lucky to have them on his side. This is a place where the full Senate report, not merely the executive summary we expect to be released, represents a time bomb. If the investigative report contains chapter and verse on CIA deception of its own superiors that will be explosive. As I noted in my book The Family Jewels presidents tend to shield intelligence agencies until controversy brushes them too closely. If Mr. Bush stood inert in the face of CIA deception he knew about because he believed in “enhanced interrogation,” that would be a black mark and could be a matter of international criminal misconduct. These are murky waters, uncharted at best, with shoals visible on the horizon.